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Evaluating Jets rookie QB Sam Darnold after his first four NFL games

Sam Darnold of the Jets walks off the

Sam Darnold of the Jets walks off the field during the second half of a 31-12 loss to the Jaguars on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018,  in Jacksonville, Fla. Credit: Getty Images/Scott Halleran

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Todd Bowles’ minimalist interviews usually seem designed to reveal as little as possible about his Jets, but in saying almost nothing when asked about his quarterback on Sunday, the coach said it all:

“No one played well; we didn’t have a great game.”

Sure enough, that was the challenge in evaluating Sam Darnold after a 31-12, even-worse-than-the-score-sounds loss to the Jaguars. He was not good, but everyone else was so bad that singling him out was pointless.

That will become a big problem if it continues because even though the Jets are trying to win this season, they really are supposed to be developing Darnold.

Pondering that based on Sunday’s flop was like trying to isolate artistic talent in the middle of a kindergarten class' group finger painting. But that is all we have to go on for this week, so let’s give it a try.

Here is the thing about Darnold, 25 percent of the way into his freshman year: Three weeks ago, after an impressive training camp and preseason, followed by an opening night rout of the Lions, we thought we knew.

Now, we don’t know.

The smart money still is on Darnold figuring this NFL thing out and being a winner in the long run. But the past three weeks have been a reality check.

How does the man himself feel about this, with his 57.5 completion percentage, four touchdowns, five interceptions and three losses?

His postgame demeanor was in keeping with his m.o., which is a good thing. He is honest, analytical and shows no sign of cracking under the strain.

Asked about his confidence level, he said, “I feel confident. I always have confidence in myself and the way I play and the way that my teammates are playing . . . It’s just about executing. It’s not much more complicated than that.”

Darnold did not sugarcoat a series of missed opportunities against the Jaguars, who held the Jets to a single, five-yard touchdown drive.

On consecutive plays, he overthrew open receivers Bilal Powell and Quincy Enunwa for what would have been long gains. Later, he overthrew an open Robby Anderson on what would have been an even longer gain.

“The one to B.P., no excuse for that one,” he said. “Just have to put it on him. Just have to execute those plays that are there. The one to Q, the one to B.P. and even the one to Robby. He beat the guy pretty good. We just have to execute. Throw and catch.”

The Jets seemed to give up on running the ball early and threw it in some key short-yardage situations. But Darnold said the game plan was sound.

“Sometimes it’s complicated and sometimes it’s not,” he said. “I think sometimes we just have to make the plays that are there. I have to make the throws that are there and not think too much, just take what they give me and we’ll start to find completions. We’ll start to get in a rhythm.”

When I asked Darnold whether he has to remind himself during tough times that this is all part of a process, he said this:

“For me it’s about winning every single game. I do look at it as a process me coming in here as a rookie and learning and all that, but once I get out there on the field I want to win. There’s nothing else that I’m thinking about.”

Fair enough. But the rest of us – along with Jets management, coaches and players – can’t help but think about projecting Darnold’s future. On Sept. 10, it seemed clear. As October dawned, some clouds had rolled in.

What does Darnold think about his first quarter of the season? “There are some things I learned, lessons that I’ve learned,” he said. “I thought I did some good things as well. I’m just going to get on this flight home and look at the tape.”

Let’s hope there were air sickness bags available.


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