The 2019 Jets season had many storylines when it began, but the biggest concerned Sam Darnold and how much progress the quarterback would show in his second season.
After 12 games, Darnold’s progress remains debatable. It also remains the most important thing we can learn over the final four games. There will be no playoff talk again this year. Owner Christopher Johnson has said coach Adam Gase will be back in 2020. We know all the deficiencies with this team well and what needs to be fixed in the offseason.
What remains a question is just how good Darnold is and what he can be. It has been a bizarre year for the 22-year-old with mononucleosis costing him three games and clearly affecting him in another. There was the “ghosts” game when he could do nothing right. Then, there have been really good moments like the win over the Cowboys or his performance against the Raiders.
On Sunday, his game against the Bengals was just …. eh. He had no turnovers and no touchdowns. He did not have a major effect on the game either way. He was not the reason the Jets lost, but he also could not do enough to lead the Jets to a win against a previously winless Bengals team.
In nine games this season, Darnold’s statistics are nearly identical or slightly better than his rookie season. He has a 4-5 record, the same amount of wins he had last year in 13 games. His completion percentage is up to .630 from .577 in 2018. He has 2,154 passing yards, on pace for a nearly identical total from last year, when he threw for 2,865. He has 13 touchdowns, on pace to slightly better last year’s total of 17. He has 10 interceptions, again on place to do slightly better than last year’s 15.
Darnold has a quarterback rating of 84.0, tied for 26th in the NFL with Giants rookie Daniel Jones. Last year, his rating was 77.6. His QBR is 44.1 (down from 45.5 last year) and he has one fourth-quarter comeback win, the same as he had last year.
Beyond the statistics, there have been glimpses of greatness from Darnold and stretches of good play. But he has not found consistency yet — a good game against Dallas was followed by a colossal clunker against New England; a strong showing in a win over the Raiders is followed by an OK outing against the Bengals.
Darnold has taken some time to get comfortable in Gase’s offense, but it appeared the two had clicked during the three-game winning streak. That disappeared in Cincinnati.
On Monday, Darnold was asked what he hopes to improve in this stretch run.
“I think, for me, I can always work on my feet,” Darnold said. “I think I’ve just got to make sure that my feet are set in the direction that I want to be throwing, not just trust my arm as much as I have been. I think making sure that my feet are in the right spot so I can make all the throws on the field that I need to make, that’s one thing. Another thing is continuing to be good with ball security, which I feel like I’ve done a better job of the last few games. Then, there’s a bunch of stuff with the offense, with protection, all that stuff that I can continue to get better at and improve on.”
Mechanics are surely something Darnold should be focused on, but from an outside perspective seeing Darnold put the team on his back and carry it once or twice during this four-game stretch would be encouraging entering 2020.
Darnold has four games left to show he has made a big leap in his second year and erase some of the questions entering his third year.
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