It’s preposterous to make a final judgment on Adam Gase after four games, one started by a backup quarterback and two by a quarterback who wasn’t even on the roster at the beginning of the season.
At 0-4, Gase is obviously not off to the kind of start that he envisioned or that the Jets, who hired him for his offensive expertise, had expected.
But now that Sam Darnold is back after a weeks-long bout with mononucleosis, it is time for Gase to show himself as a coach who can transform the Jets’ offense and usher in an era of hope. After a month’s worth of losing with the likes of Trevor Siemian and Luke Falk, Gase has his quarterback.
No more excuses. No more explanations.
“Any time your starting quarterback comes back, guys are going to be excited,” Gase said in anticipation of Sunday’s game against the Cowboys at MetLife Stadium. “The good thing is, the way he looks at it is he wants to come in and do his job. I don’t think guys are looking at it as now that he’s back, all will be all right. They know we have a lot to clean up.”
The coach has a lot to clean up, too. He hasn’t covered himself in glory during the futile stretch that has begun his Jets career. He was far too conservative in his play-calling in the one game Darnold did play — a 17-16 loss to the Bills in Week 1 — and there were no positives to take away from consecutive losses to the Browns, Patriots and Eagles. The Jets were overmatched against all three opponents, but they also were badly outcoached.
But now Gase has the quarterback whom he was entrusted to develop, and he must show that Darnold can run his offense effectively. That will require far more imaginative play-calling than Gase has shown and will mean that all three units must show marked improvement.
Gase doesn’t call the defense and doesn’t preside over special teams, but he is in charge of the Jets and needs to see improvement at all levels of the operation.
It won’t be easy, especially with back-to-back games against the Cowboys, who are primed for a bounce-back performance after a poor effort at home last week against the Packers, and the defending champion Patriots, who are 6-0 and appear primed to get back to the Super Bowl.
Darnold is delighted to be back and ready to shoulder the burden of expectation he inherited coming into the season.
“When you’re out that long,” he said, “you realize how awesome the game is because you miss it so much.
“I’ve said it for as long as we’ve been working together that this offense is capable of a lot. It’s capable of scoring a lot of points. It’s just up to us as an offense to go out there and execute it and do it.”
It’s also up to Gase to put the offense in position to execute it.
“[Darnold] is what you refer to as an eraser-type player, where it can be the worst call ever and he makes it work,” Gase said. “If something bad happens, he can escape, he can extend plays. When you have good pocket presence and you have the ability to escape the pocket, it will mask the mistakes that are made by others.”
But it’s Gase who needs to be on his game as far as calling plays. It can’t simply be handoff to Le’Veon Bell, another handoff to Bell and hope that Darnold can complete a third-down pass. Gase needs to mix it up, throw early and often on first down and keep the Cowboys off balance the way Aaron Rodgers did last week and Teddy Bridgewater did the previous week in New Orleans.
It won’t be easy with consistently dreadful play from the offensive line, which has been a major source of concern all season. The defense has been hamstrung by the absence of sure-tackling linebacker C.J. Mosley, who will miss his fourth straight game, and subpar play in the secondary and along the line.
Gase already has incurred the wrath of a sizable portion of the fan base, with many Dolphins fans nodding their heads in agreement after seeing his shortcomings in Miami the previous two seasons. In the intensifying what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world the NFL has become, Gase is under pressure to prove he deserves the right to lead a Jets team so badly in need of a spark after three straight losing seasons.
He is off to a nightmarish start, but not all of it is of his making. Especially Darnold’s absence.
But now that his quarterback has returned, it’s time for the coach to step up and prove he’s the right guy for the job.