They spoke so often about how much better things felt this year, that their missteps and struggles from 2019 were behind them because the communication had improved and because Sam Darnold had a greater command of Adam Gase’s offense heading into the Jets’ season opener at Buffalo.
So much for that.
Day 1 of Year 2 of the Darnold-Gase partnership looked like most days of Year 1, and expectations of a significant jump from the quarterback ended with a thud in Sunday’s 27-17 loss at Bills Stadium.
That final score was deceptively close, because the Jets’ offense was nearly non-existent, save for one brilliant moment, and the Bills failed to deliver a stake to the Jets’ heart with some shoddy play of their own near the end of the first half. There also was a meaningless touchdown by the Jets with 54 seconds remaining.
Darnold was 21-for-35 for 215 yards, one touchdown and one interception and was sacked three times behind the Jets’ transformed offensive line. He was badly outplayed by 2018 draft classmate Josh Allen, who threw for 312 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
And while you certainly can argue that no definitive conclusions ought to be rendered one week into a season that was preceded by COVID-19 chaos, it is nevertheless not a stretch to say that Darnold could have — and should have — been much better.
Just ask him.
"We didn’t execute the way we wanted to, especially in the first half," he said. "I put that on my shoulders. I missed way too many throws today. We had opportunities. I just missed guys. We’ve got to look at the tape and see what happened, but I just flat-out missed guys, and that’s on me. I’ve got to be better and we’ve got to execute better."
No argument there. At all.
For all the preseason talk from Darnold and Gase about how seamlessly things had been going, and for all the trust they said they’d built, this certainly was not the way to convince skeptical Jets fans that this season will be much different from the last, when Darnold was generally inconsistent.
"It’s the first game of the season, so we just got to go in with our heads up and be ready to learn from our mistakes and leave it at that," Darnold said, asking for a measure of patience. "We have to understand how we need to fix those things, because they’re fixable."
That doesn’t make it any easier to accept Sunday’s performance.
"For us, we’re all competitors," Darnold said. "Losing sucks, no matter who it is."
There isn’t much time to fix the problems. The Jets’ home opener next week is against the defending NFC champion 49ers, whose defense is every bit as good as, and in a lot of ways even better than, a Buffalo unit that gave Darnold fits.
Darnold did have one bright moment, when he hit Jamison Crowder on a quick throw to his right, although it was Crowder who did the heavy lifting by breaking tackles and scooting through the Bills’ secondary for a 69-yard touchdown. But there needed to be more. Much more. It simply wasn’t there.
Darnold had a costly interception near midfield in the first half, as he rolled left and threw across his body on an ill-advised pass attempt. And he took a bad sack near the end of the third quarter when he needed to throw the ball out of bounds.
"We were not good in the passing game today, especially early," Gase said. "I feel like we did some good stuff later. The touchdown was something that I was excited about, because Sam saw the pressure, he checked the play and we executed it. That was a good step for us, but we didn’t do nearly enough to give ourselves a chance against this defense."
Bottom line: "We didn’t play well," Gase said. "We did not do a good job as an offense."
After another dispiriting performance, questions will continue to linger about Gase’s adequacy as a play-caller and supposed quarterback whisperer for Darnold. He lasted just three years in Miami and is 7-10 with the Jets after taking over for Todd Bowles.
With a rebuilding roster and a continuously revolving cast of players, it won’t be easy to make this work.
Especially if Gase can’t get more out of his quarterback.