FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Some day, this dragon known as the New England Patriots will be slayed. Perhaps it will happen as a result of either Bill Belichick or Tom Brady – or both – no longer presiding over the greatest dynasty in sports history. Or maybe it will come at the hands of the next great coach/quarterback tandem.
Sam Darnold knows this and understands the enormity of the task that he and the Jets face in dealing with the team that has dominated the AFC East for nearly two decades running. The Patriots are the Jets’ white whale, with so many Captain Ahabs trying in vain to capture the NFL’s answer to Moby Dick.
Darnold and now coach Adam Gase are merely the latest to try.
Even if history does not bode well.
Darnold would love to be the quarterback who supplants Brady as the standard by which all others are judged. He would give anything to have a career even remotely close to Brady’s six Super Bowl championships and eight appearances in the Big Game. Yet Darnold understands that while it’s all well and good to think big, he can’t be overcome by the enormity of the task. Nor will he view the Patriots as larger-than-life figures.
“When you get locked in on trying to break the dynasty or take them down,” Darnold said Thursday, “that’s when you start losing control of yourself and your emotions.”
He is so right about that. Players and teams can often become so absorbed with their fiercest rivals that they often succumb to the pressure they bring on themselves. That’s what happened to Rex Ryan, who famously said he did not take the Jets’ job in 2009 to kiss Belichick’s rings. Ryan did beat Brady and Belichick once in the playoffs, but the coach left the team after six seasons without having made it to the Super Bowl.
Darnold insists he will not make the same mistake, that he won’t make Monday night’s game against the defending Super Bowl champions any bigger than it needs to be.
“For us, it’s take it one game at a time and focusing on what we need to do … and go about the game that way,” he said. “If we get outside of ourselves and [think about trying to] take down Tom Brady, take down Belichick – those are all legit things. But for us, it’s about focusing on what we need to do and for us to execute.”
It’s a sensible approach and one that will serve the second-year quarterback well as he moves forward. Darnold has so much more to learn in the years ahead, and he is wise beyond his 22 years. But he is also supremely confident that he and the players around him have what it takes to be a contending team. And he even took to puffing his chest a bit Thursday by suggesting that the Jets’ offense can be as good as any in the NFL.
Up to and including the Patriots.
“Once all the guys are back together, I think we’re unstoppable as an offense, or we can be,” he said. “It’s just up to us how well we go out there and play. It’s up to us how many points we score. I think we’re capable of scoring so many points. The sky’s the limit for us.”
Darnold is clearly feeling good after having returned from a three-game absence due to a case of mono, although making the “unstoppable as an offense” claim may be a bit ambitious. Especially with the Patriots up next. It’s one thing to go up and down the field on the Cowboys in a 24-22 win at MetLife on Sunday. It’s quite another to do that against Belichick’s defense, which has surrendered just three touchdowns in the Patriots’ 6-0 start.
Then again, Darnold won’t apologize – nor should he apologize – for feeling good about his team. That’s what good leaders do, and Darnold is as good a leader as the Jets have had at quarterback in years.
He gives the Jets their best hope of one day surpassing the Patriots.
That time is not yet here.
Maybe one day.