If there was any concern about residual damage left behind by Jamal Adams’ scathing rebuke of Adam Gase shortly before the safety was traded to the Seahawks, Sam Darnold offered up a convincing case that the coach hasn’t lost the locker room. Especially the most important player in that locker room.
The Jets’ third-year quarterback made it clear that he still believes Gase is the right man for the job.
“He’s the right leader for this team, for sure,” Darnold said Tuesday on a Zoom call with reporters. “I think for me, personally, he’s helped me grow a ton as a quarterback in learning this offense, and I just think throughout the weeks leading up to games he does everything that he possibly can to put us in position to win on Sundays. From my experience with coach Gase, I’ve had nothing but positive experiences with him so far.”
More than anyone else, it will be Darnold who can impact Gase’s standing with the team and provide the coach with the kind of credibility he’ll need to be on the job long term. While it is unquestionably a big year for Gase to convince the Jets he can be a consistent winner, it is as big a year for Darnold to prove he can lead this team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 and back to the Super Bowl since … the 1968 season.
There have been flashes with Darnold, of that there is no doubt. The fourth-quarter touchdown pass off a wild scramble in his rookie season against the Bills. The nearly perfect game against the Cowboys last year on his return after a four-game absence because of mononucleosis. The four-touchdown performance against Washington a few weeks after that. The 127.8 rating against the Raiders the next game.
But there also have been reminders of how far he still needs to come. The struggles as a rookie, especially the first half of that season. The three-interception meltdown against the Jaguars early last season. And, of course, the time he was “seeing ghosts” against Bill Belichick’s Patriots defense in a humiliating 33-0 home loss last year.
Yes, there is a lot of ground to cover, and Darnold must show legitimate signs of sustained success in Year 3. He and Gase believe that will indeed happen.
“I love how he worked through the spring,” Gase said. “I love the questions he’s asking. I can’t wait to see him throw, especially to the new guys out there. And I’m excited to see what this offensive line can do.”
General manager Joe Douglas went to great lengths to improve the line, a promise he made to Darnold’s parents shortly after being named GM in May 2019. Among the upgrades: first-round tackle Mekhi Becton, and free agents Connor McGovern, Alex Van Roten and George Fant. Douglas also re-signed guard Alex Lewis.
“I have a ton more confidence in myself to be able to go out there and play consistent football, which is what the game is all about,” Darnold said
That’s exactly where Darnold needs to get better – consistency. He has shown he can make the tough throws, that he can stand up to the pressure under a heavy rush. What he hasn’t shown, however, is the ability to produce sustained success. Not until he can do that from week to week and season to season can Darnold truly be considered a franchise quarterback who can get the Jets where he so desperately wants them to go.
At 23, he is still young and still very much a work in progress, and now embarks on a season amid the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. But if there is a season to be played, he must be up to the moment, especially in a division that no longer has Tom Brady in it.
“I’m going to stay in my apartment and be traveling from there to here, and that’s going to be it for me,” Darnold said of his single-minded focus. “It might be boring, but that’s kind of what I have to do at this point.”
His increased familiarity with Gase’s offense might be his biggest asset.
“There’s just so much more that I understand that I didn’t understand at this point last year,” he said. “For me, it’s just getting a whole year under my belt in the system. I definitely have a lot more confidence.”
He needs it to show. Now and long into the future.