Sam Darnold
Robby Sabo, ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Sam Darnold has shown improvement since returning from injury. The New York Jets shouldn’t be surprised at the source of inspiration.

Geoff Magliocchetti

FLORHAM PARK, NEW JERSEY—Long erased from the AFC playoff picture, the New York Jets‘ remaining games have become the Sam Darnold development sessions.

Touted rookie quarterback Sam Darnold returned from a November foot injury just in time for four December contests. Elimination provided the darkest of silver linings for the Jets: with Darnold in tow, the team had four chances at free research and development for 2019. Opportunities to stay for the Jets’ potential return to glory have been on the line, all under the supervision of Darnold.

The rookie is one of the few Jets whose future status is secure. But the final quartet serves as four blank slates for Darnold. It’s been a stretch to hone his skills, consequence-free opportunities to fine tune his game.

So far, he’s taking full advantage.

Darnold returned to the Jets’ game field on December 9 in Buffalo. In a duel against fellow rookie Josh Allen and the equally doomed Bills, Darnold briefly left the game with another injury but returned to provide late heroics. He found Robby Anderson for his two biggest throws of the day, both coming in the fourth quarter. A seven-yard scoring throw tied the game, while a 37-yard hookup, later on, helped win it, as Elijah McGuire punched in the winner four plays later.

New York Jets

On Saturday, Darnold kept the good momentum going, battling sophomore thrower Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans. Against a Houston team fight for its first-ever first round bye, Darnold helped the Jets keep pace, to the tune of 284 offensive yards and two scores. Victory was not to be, but it was a step in the right direction for Darnold and the Jets (4-10).

Over the first half of the final quarter, Darnold has amassed 468 yards, including 45 on 10 rushing attempts. He’s pleased to be building some momentum for the next steps of his NFL journey, but wants the results to reflect in the team’s win column, not his box score.

“It comes down to wins and losses,” Darnold said on Saturday. “We want to get out there and win the game. That’s the whole point of playing. You want to win. To go out there against a good Texans team, it would’ve been awesome to be able to get that win, but we just came up short.”

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