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Don't play it again, Sam: Darnold struggles again, and it's never been clearer he isn't part of Jets' future

Miami Dolphins' Andrew Van Ginkel, left, tackles Jets

Miami Dolphins' Andrew Van Ginkel, left, tackles Jets quarterback Sam Darnold during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. Credit: AP/Corey Sipkin

Well, that’s that.

The Jets officially can proceed to lose all their games, draft Trevor Lawrence and bid an amicable farewell to Sam Darnold, none of it with hesitation or regret.

Darnold erased any lingering doubt about that grand plan on Sunday, when he returned from missing two games with a shoulder injury, had all three starting receivers available for the first time this season . . . and bombed anyway.

It was so bad it was sad.

 

The young quarterback looked good on the first drive against the Dolphins at MetLife Stadium, which resulted in a field goal. He played poorly after that, finishing 16-for-27 for 197 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions in the Jets’ 20-3 loss.

He went 0-for-October-and-November in throwing touchdowns passes, playing in four games in those two months. He did manage four interceptions in that span.

Afterward, the former No. 3 overall draft pick said his shoulder felt fine, and that he simply must be better.

"Those two decisions I made, the two picks, those suck, but other than that I missed a couple of throws," he said. "I’ve got to be better, didn’t play well enough to win a ballgame today."

Darnold’s worst moment came early in the third quarter, with the Jets trailing 13-3 and in field-goal range at the Miami 32.

He rolled to his right away from pressure and lofted a pass in the approximate direction of Jamison Crowder that was intercepted by Nik Needham.

"It’s just feel," Darnold said. "I made a bad decision. I think I could have just put it more toward the sideline."

He denied forcing things in an effort to generate a big play. "No, no," he said. "For me I’ve always kind of let the game come to me. In the moment you always want to try to make that play.

"But I think I’ve been doing a better job of kind of taking things when they’re there and not forcing them."

Coach Adam Gase did think Darnold might have been trying to make something extra happen in his first game back. "We have to get those fixed," he said. "We can’t have those turnovers."

Things only got more depressing from there. The Jets twice recovered fumbles in Miami territory – at the 45- and 26-yard lines – and the takeaways produced a total of zero points.

None of the above came as a shock to Jets fans who already were assuming a life without Darnold in 2021, even if somehow the Jets blow the No. 1 overall pick to the Jaguars by winning a game or two down the stretch.

But what happened Sunday makes it even more unlikely Darnold will last past this season, seemingly destined to leave town with his head coach.

Gase did Darnold no favors with some of his play calls, including a strange fascination with handing the ball to Frank Gore up the middle.

It was a performance of surpassing awfulness befitting an 0-11 team. This is the NFL, not the Big 12. It should not be possible to be this bad this consistently at this level.

So it has been a team effort. But Darnold is the culprit most in the spotlight, especially after there had been signs of progress with backup quarterback Joe Flacco.

Darnold now has three TD passes and eight interceptions this season.

Guard Greg Van Roten, a Chaminade High alumnus, said he believes the Jets are a better team with Darnold on the field, and said the makeshift line let him down with some protection breakdowns.

"We weren’t giving him opportunity to show what he can do," Van Roten said, "and that’s frustrating for us as a line and for me personally."

Does Darnold have the ability to salvage a successful career elsewhere? Sure. But doing so with the Jets now seems more implausible than ever.

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