It took a while for Sam Darnold and the New York Jets’ primary offense to get going, but they ended an effective preseason on the right note.
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ—Preseason football is purgatory. So deprived is the pigskin-loving public of the game they love that they’re willing to treat repetitions against competition that’s more likely to be watching Week 1’s action rather than partaking in it like it’s the Super Bowl. That type of scrutiny increases thirtyfold when there’s a guy who can buck decades of quarterback inefficiency is under center.
Preseason box scores will end up in the dumpsters at One Jets Drive soon enough. But what Sam Darnold and his starting offense were able to do in their limited time in summer gameplay is certainly noteworthy.
At the very least, thanks in part to his postgame comments, it’s evident that the USC product is a perfectionist.
It’s not entirely likely that Darnold will take the field in the New York Jets preseason finale on Thursday night in the Jets’ preseason finale against Philadelphia (7:00 p.m. ET, WCBS). Should that come to pass, Darnold would end this summer stretch with a mark of 17-for-25 for 211 yards. Two passes ended up with six points and none went to the other team.
That’s good for a passer rating of 120.6. Darnold’s time was more-or-less a welcome, if not generally consistent, an extension of the final four games of his rookie campaign. Darnold threw six touchdowns and one interception in that span, which included a come-from-behind win in Buffalo.
Jets head coach Adam Gase noted after Saturday’s 28-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints that Darnold’s summer has been defined by his improvement at the line of scrimmage.
“He’s getting to the point where he’s comfortable doing those types things and getting in and out of certain plays,” Gase said. “Every day that we get to do something and he has one or two of those a day, that’s beneficial to him.”
Darnold led the Jets to touchdown drives in each of his opening drives over the first couple of exhibitions. One was a two-yard touchdown toss to Jamison Crowder in their opening game against the New York Giants. Saturday’s New Orleans challenge presented a bit of a struggle.
A two-play opener, cut short by a lost Ty Montgomery fumble, preceded three consecutive punts. Three of the first four drives last four plays or less. The summer doldrums allowed New Orleans to nurse a two-possession lead.
Darnold was understandably disappointed about the time to took to get going, but hinted such an experience could prove educational.
“I guess going through something like that, going through some adversity in the first drive, for sure,” Darnold said when asked if there was value about summer stalling. “We always want to come out fast and score as fast as possible. So, there are a lot of sloppy plays, some sloppy play in the first quarter. Obviously, in the second quarter, we came back strong and I thought we put together a couple of good drives. But there are some things we’ve got to work on for sure.”
When it came to the redeeming drive, Darnold took time to praise the players that helped the offense get to this place of hope. Robby Anderson did his part with a 41-yard reception that set New York up in Saints territory, but newcomers like Crowder and Montgomery drew praise from the USC product for their performances in not just the game, but the practice field as well.
“Obviously, with some of the guys that were here last year, I feel an immediate connection with them. But then guys like Ty and guys like Crowder, the reason they’re having success in the preseason is because they practice so hard and I’ve been used to it,” he said. Darnold said summer practices are also why he’s not concerned about unseen arrivals like Le’Veon Bell and Ryan Kalil.
“The reason I’m not concerned (about early chemistry) is how hard we practice.”
Practice paid off in the scoring trek. Darnold took the squad 65 yards in seven plays, the last of which was a two-yard floater that landed in the arms of an endzone-bound Montgomery.
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The running back’s redemption was of no surprise to Darnold.
“Ty’s a vet. He’s been doing it for a long time,” the quarterback said. “To see the way he bounced back after the fumble doesn’t surprise me.”
After another New Orleans field goal, the Jets got the ball back with 2:20 to go in the second quarter. Gase said he wanted to play the starters in the entire first half, but felt “the time was right” to remove them after the touchdown.
Darnold, however, wouldn’t have minded another opportunity. He understood the coach’s decision, but admitted feeling “antsy” for another drive.
“Sitting out the second half, I kind of wanted to get in there and play,” Darnold admitted. “I didn’t like how we played in the first quarter. In the second quarter, we kind of found our rhythm and then we’re out. I’m definitely curious to see how we would’ve responded and how we would’ve played the whole game.
“For me, personally, I’m definitely antsy to get going.”
In two weeks, Darnold will get his wish, and his mentality will strive for perfection.