The New York Jets could be without Sam Darnold on Sunday because of a foot injury that has the rookie quarterback listed as doubtful.
Darnold, the third overall pick in April’s draft, will likely sit out due to injury for the first time in his career. Officially listed with a foot injury, he did not practice all week, relegated to observing preparation for a Sunday afternoon tilt against the Buffalo Bills (1:00 p.m. ET, CBS) clad in a boot on his right foot. Thus far on the season, Darnold has thrown for 1,934 yards and 11 touchdowns, leading all rookie quarterbacks, but his 14 interceptions lead the league as a whole. Seven of those interceptions have come over the past three games, all Jets losses.
Darnold is not looking back on this news as a setback. Instead, he plans to use Sunday’s game as a learning experience on the sidelines, as he observes NFL veteran Josh McCown get the start in his place.
“I’m just going to treat it as another learning experience,” he said. “Like (I’ve) said before, when adversity hits, it’s up to me on how to respond. That’s all I need to worry about.”
McCown, 39, will make his 14th career start with the Jets, which head coach Todd Bowles confirmed on Thursday. In the midst of his 16th NFL season, and second with the Jets, McCown posted career-highs in passing yards (2,926) and touchdowns (18) in 2017. The Jets were 5-8 in McCown’s starts, though six of those losses came by single digits. His season ended in a Week 14 contest in Denver, suffering a left-hand injury in a 23-0 defeat.
“I say it all the time, that’s why we do this, to play. If that’s the case, you’re torn because your friend and a teammate, it means he can’t go. In that regard, I don’t wish that on anybody,” McCown said on Wednesday. “At the same time as a professional, as a backup quarterback, you have to serve your team in that role and go in and play winning football. That’s what’s fun, that’s what you look forward to and that’s why you play this game, and we’ll go out and compete.”
In two starts against the Bills last season, McCown threw for a combined 327 yards and was responsible for three total touchdowns (two rushing). The Jets split their annual season pair with Buffalo in 2017, losing 21-12 during opening weekend at New Era Field before earning a 34-21 victory at MetLife Stadium in November.
McCown played only 19 snaps in the preseason, giving way to Darnold and since-departed veteran Teddy Bridgewater. He threw just nine passes, eight of which came in the summer finale in Philadelphia. The veteran, however, does not think rust will be a problem to deal with on Sunday.
“I think that’s the part of being in professional football is the expectation is to go out and play at a high level,” he said. “That can’t be allowed to be an excuse and it won’t be. I’ll go out and expect to play to my standard and to the standard of this football team and win a football game.”
Bowles made it clear on Thursday that Darnold will return to the starter’s role once he is healthy.
“Sam is our quarterback,” Bowles declared. “He’s our starter and he won the job. I feel comfortable with him in there and I feel comfortable with Josh in there.”
The news of McCown’s start was previously announced by head coach Todd Bowles on Thursday. Bowles had left the possibility of Darnold dressing open, but the team will instead dress practice squad thrower Davis Webb to serve as McCown’s backup. Webb was infamously released by the New York Giants after training camp, just over a year after they selected him in the third round of the 2017 draft. No corresponding move has been announced to account for Webb’s promotion to the active roster.
In other Jets injury news, tight end Neal Sterling (concussion) is out, while receiver Robby Anderson (ankle) and center Spencer Long (knee/finger) are each likewise doubtful. Defensive lineman Steve McLendon (ankle) is questionable.