Sam Darnold
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold enjoyed a solid rookie season, but which quarters were his most dominant? 

Michael Nania

As you would expect to be the case for any rookie, it was a roller-coaster season for Sam Darnold in 2018.

Not only did that moniker apply on the game-by-game level, but in applied on a quarter-by-quarter basis as well.

Let’s take a look back at Sam’s rookie season and delve into his production by quarter.

FIRST QUARTER

Darnold typically struggled out of the gate. Obviously, the most notable example of this was way back in Week 1, when Darnold threw a pick-six on his very first NFL pass.


On the year, Darnold completed 50 of 81 first quarter attempts for 508 yards (6.3 per attempt), one touchdown, and four interceptions, culminating in a 63.2 passer rating.

While Darnold improved his game-opening performance near the end of the year, the difference was not very stark. Over the final four games of the season, he completed 13 of 23 first quarter attempts for 155 yards, no touchdowns, and no interceptions, resulting in a 77.3 passer rating. The best plus is that he did not turn the ball over a single time.

The Jets as a team have consistently struggled to come out of the gates hot offensively. They were the only team in the NFL who did not score an opening drive touchdown in 2018. Going back to 2017, they’ve gone 24 straight games without one. Their last opening drive score came against the Falcons in Week 8 of 2017.

Hopefully, a switch in the playcalling philosophy will lead to better results to open games and better production from Darnold in first quarters.

SECOND QUARTER

Darnold typically began heating up in the second quarter. It turned out to be his most productive period of the four. He completed 68 of his 110 second quarter passing attempts for 882 yards (8.0 per attempt), six touchdowns, and no interceptions, resulting in a 105.2 passer rating.

Among the 37 quarterbacks with at least 40 second quarter passing attempts, Darnold ranked 12th in passer rating and 11th in yards per attempt. He stood fourth in yards per completion with a mark of 13.0, behind only Carson Wentz, Jameis Winston and Patrick Mahomes. His six touchdown passes without an interception ranked as the second-most, ironically behind his new head coach’s former quarterback, Ryan Tannehill.

Over the final four games of the season, Darnold took his second-quarter efficiency to a new level. He posted a 123.0 passer rating in the second quarter over Weeks 14-17, second best in the league over that span behind only fellow rookie Nick Mullens.

Darnold went off in this period against the Texans, throwing six first downs in the second quarter of that game alone.

THIRD QUARTER

Darnold typically carried his second-quarter fire into the third.

On the season, he completed 50 out of 89 third-quarter attempts for 615 yards (6.9 per attempt), six touchdowns, and four interceptions, culminating in an 81.4 passer rating.

On the surface, those numbers don’t jump off the page, but from an efficiency standpoint, Darnold was actually doing a really good job in that quarter. He threw for 32 first downs in the first quarter, which means he moved the chains on about 40.0-percent of his passing attempts. That was by far his best first down rate in any quarter.

Down the stretch, Darnold saw his biggest improvement coming in the third quarter. From Weeks 14-17, he completed 22 of 30 third-quarter passes for 251 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. He picked up 15 first downs on those throws, earning a ridiculously good 50.0-percent first down rate. That was second best in the league over that span, behind only Andrew Luck.

New York Jets

FOURTH QUARTER

Darnold’s ups and downs were very pronounced in the fourth. There were some tremendous highs, most notably the comeback and game-winning drive at Buffalo.

But there were also some steep valleys. On the season, Darnold completed 71 of his 134 fourth quarter attempts for 860 yards (6.4 per attempt), four touchdowns, and seven interceptions.

The seven picks in the fourth quarter led the league. However, all of those came in only three games. Darnold tossed three picks against Miami in Week 9 and two each against Cleveland in Week 3 and Minnesota in Week 7. A handful of those were desperation heaves, and one was a blatant drop off the chest of Charone Peake. So Darnold does have some slack here.

On the year, Darnold had about as much fourth-quarter pressure placed upon him as any other quarterback in the league. 114 of Darnold’s 414 total pass attempts came in the fourth quarter while the Jets were trailing. That makes up 27.5-percent of all of Darnold’s passing attempts. Only Cam Newton (28.0-percent) had a higher rate among qualifiers.

Additionally, those throws with the Jets trailing made up about 85-percent of Darnold’s fourth-quarter attempts. He very rarely was defending a lead late in the game. Almost always, he was being forced to put the team on his back and try to claw them out of a hole.

It’s tough for a 21-year old to have to play that much catch-up.

On the plus side, Darnold showed signs of improvement in his clutch game down the stretch. As previously mentioned, he led a stellar comeback against the Bills in Orchard Park, even with that game marking his return from a three-game absence.

That afternoon, Darnold became the youngest quarterback in NFL history to lead a game-winning drive. He also joined Baker Mayfield and Russell Wilson as the only rookies since 2012 to lead a fourth-quarter comeback on the road against a top five DVOA defense.

It was a flat-out icy performance.

Darnold’s fourth quarter stats over the final four weeks of the season still weren’t stellar (21-for-40, 236 yards, 5.9 yards per attempt, 78.8 rating). It’s hard to blame him much for it, though. At that point of the season, the Jets’ already-poor offensive supporting cast was riddled with injuries.

About a third of Darnold’s fourth quarter attempts over that span went to one of the following players: Andre Roberts, J.J. Jones, Rishard Matthews, Trenton Cannon, Jermaine Kearse, Elijah McGuire, or Jordan Leggett. Not exactly a star-studded cast.

Regardless, the good news was that Darnold did not turn the ball over a single time in the fourth quarter. From Weeks 14-17, Darnold’s 40 passing attempts without a single interception trailed only Deshaun Watson for the most in the league.

The main goal for Darnold in 2019? Consistency. Great quarterbacks are great in not one, not two, not three, but four quarters.

Can Darnold achieve a level of consistency that will ascend him towards greatness?


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