With Josh McCown struggling in his place, Sam Darnold was somewhat vindicated in absentia, watching the New York Jets’ offense sputter.
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY- If you told New York Jets fans back in September that a USC alum would have the best game of his career in their Week 10 showdown with the Buffalo Bills, they’d probably be ecstatic over Sam Darnold heroics.
Instead, it was another Trojan who stole the show, as Matt Barkley announced his NFL return with an exclamation mark. Wallowing in veteran free agency less than two weeks ago, Barkley earned the first 100+ passer rating of his career in a two-touchdown, 232-yard output that literally began from the start of the afternoon, as his 47-yard pass to Robert Foster on the first play from scrimmage was the longest play of his NFL career.
On the other side of the field, Darnold could only watch as the Jets floundered on both sides of the ball, as the rookie quarterback’s injured right foot kept him out of the Jets’ 41-10 defeat at the hands of the lowly Bills. On a day full of losing and embarrassing moments, one that featured a successful fake punt and an offensive lineman touchdown, lost in the chaos was another pitiful offensive performance for the Jets, one that somehow finished under 200 yards on the afternoon.
And, with that, Darnold became the closest thing the Jets had to a winner on Sunday.
The Jets’ offensive ineptitude, silliness that has seen them fail to hit 20 points over their previous four games, has gotten to a point where Joe Montana himself might have trouble moving the ball with them. Sure, injuries to key names, including Darnold, have hindered a sense of true sense of continuity and fluidity to the offense, but failing to tally 300 yards over their previous four games is an anomaly that should be impossible to reach in today’s offense-happy NFL.
No one’s confusing Sunday replacement Josh McCown with Montana, but the fact that an experienced NFL veteran like McCown, one that posted career-best numbers in 13 starts with mostly the same cast last season, struggled to gain any traction against the Bills just proves that the Jets’ issues don’t begin and end at quarterback.
It’s easy to fall under the impression that a flashy new quarterback is an instant remedy, especially watching, for example, Andrew Luck turn a 2-14 squad into a playoff team in his debut year in Indianapolis. There’s also no doubt that Darnold’s drafting instilled a sense of excitement and invigoration into the team. The playoffs were always going to be a bit of a long shot, with the established kings in New England still reigning over the AFC East, and the Wild Card picture crowded with completed contenders, but there was still a sense of purpose to the Jets’ season.
This was a year of building: a year to build momentum, a time for the Jets to clear their throat and put the rest of the league on notice. Instead, there have been typical Jets losses, the team living up to their reputation as a walking punchline whose defeats double as viral sensations.
Simply put, Darnold needs more help, needs to be saved from incompetency, if this NFL thing is going to work out.
Granted, Darnold hasn’t been perfect when he’s been on the field, and he has been the first to admit that. His turnover problems, for examples, have followed him from the West Coast, leading the league in interceptions. But, he needs the proper staff, the proper supporting cast around him, and the Jets need to get that done sooner rather than later. Someone has to pay for Sunday’s silliness during the extended time off, as the Jets enter their yearly bye week reeling and sputtering.
The Jets have never been ones for in-season head coach firings, last doing so in back-to-back years in 1975-76 (Charley Winner and Lou Holtz were the respective “honorees”), so Todd Bowles is probably here to stay. If the Jets are going to let someone go, offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates might be the first on the chopping block, but Jets fans should remain cautious in hearing rumors about forced departures. Additionally, easy as it is to point the finger at the coaches, on-field personnel must also be held accountable. The offensive line, for example, is somehow contending with the Giants’ shoddy blocking unit for the worst protection in New York.
Exciting as this Darnold era may be, the Jets need to be careful at the same time, making sure their prized pick is as comfortable as possible, even as things get increasingly uncomfortable in the standings. The Jets are 3-7, trapped in the depths of the East, but with this mark comes a gift obtained by the least ideal circumstances: six weeks of free research and development that determines who gets to stay for the Jets’ potential return to glory. Darnold, who has a chance to be back in the starters’ role when the Jets reconvene to prepare for a November 25 matchup with the New England Patriots, has six consequence-free games, blank canvases to deal with.
Inevitably, if the Jets continue to struggle, and with matchups with contenders from New England, Tennessee, Houston, and Green Bay looming, that’s entirely possible, that a vocal group, no matter how small, on Jets’ fan social media is going to declare Darnold a bust, but for now, he deserves the benefit of the doubt. The Jets were never in a position where a quarterback was an instant fix, and everyone’s learning that the hard way now. Changes are coming to the Jets, ones that go beyond the thrower. Time will only tell when they’ll be made, and the departed will have contributed to the demise of what was a franchise full of promise as recently as 2015.
Darnold is one of the few guys whose spot on the team is fully secure moving forward. If anyone’s going to lead the Jets out of this rut, one that has canceled any playoff trips since 2011, it’ll be him. But Sunday’s relative vindication proves this will be a process, one in which there’s no quick fix for the quick fix.
Darnold needs help to get this green train back on course. Whether his current veteran assistants and mentors, the true guilty parties of the Jets’ latest fall from grace, are there for the ride remains to be seen.