CHICAGO – Let’s begin with the disclaimers:
Sam Darnold faced challenges against the Bears on Sunday that would have made it difficult for most quarterbacks to succeed, let alone a rookie in his eighth game.
There were injuries to his top two receivers, top back and starting center. That left Jermaine Kearse as the most targeted receiver even though on most plays the separation he got from defenders could be measured only with a microscope.
The running game was a no-show. There were back-breaking false start penalties. There was wind. There was cold. There were Bears fans.
At least Chicago did not have star pass rusher Khalil Mack, who is injured. But it is fair to say that Darnold was up against it in the Jets’ 24-10 loss at Soldier Field.
And yet . . . the kid has to be better than this moving forward, and it is OK to expect that now that he has a full half-season under his belt.
Jets fans were warned repeatedly when this rookie quarterback thing started that they would have to be patient, and ride the inevitable ups and downs. For the most part, they have been.
And for the most part, Darnold has done enough to keep everyone on the good side of the fine line between promise and panic on the franchise quarterback scale.
But he has not erased all doubts, as illustrated by Sunday’s misadventures.
Darnold completed 14 of 29 for 153 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked only once and was smart with the ball, throwing it away rather than risk turnovers. He also ran for 22 yards, only three fewer than leading rusher Isaiah Crowell.
But what little he did was too late. Through three quarters, the Jets had four first downs and 98 total yards, and Darnold was 7-for-16 for 59 yards.
Then his one touchdown drive benefitted from a couple of huge breaks. A third-and-13 pass from the Jets’ 35-yard line fell incomplete, but an unnecessary roughness penalty on the Bears’ Eddie Jackson extended the possession.
Then, on a deep throw to Deontay Burnett, the ball went through the hands of Bears defender Kyle Fuller before landing in Burnett’s arms for a 29-yard gain, the Jets’ longest of the day. It set up Darnold’s nifty 16-yard touchdown pass to Chris Herndon.
"I thought he played tough,” coach Todd Bowles said of Darnold. “We knew it was going to be a tough game. It was one of those types of games, with the wind blowing, when it’s not there, you throw it away. He didn’t turn it over, and that was the main thing. He was giving us a chance.”
Afterward, Darnold was his usual stoic, honest, philosophical self. (He long since has mastered the art of postgame news conferences, so no problems there.)
Regarding the injuries that limited his arsenal, he said, “Injuries happen. It’s football. It’s a contact sport, so guys sometimes are going to get hurt. It is what it is. I thought the guys for the most part stepped up today.”
He said the wind had no effect on him and admitted it was nice not to see Mack chasing him. He also noted more than once that the penalties hurt.
So far there has been no sign of him cracking under the weight of expectations.
“I thought there were some good things that I did, but at the same time there were obviously some plays I’d like to have back,” he said.
Asked about the offense’s long dry spell early in the game, he said, “It’s frustrating for everyone. We just have to play better.”
True, and No. 14 is no exception. His midterm grades read like this: 138-for-250 for 1,705 yards, 11 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 74.5 passer rating.
And a 3-5 record.
All things considered, not bad. Not bad at all. But not good enough.