Look at the bright side, Jets fans: When the first two quarterbacks taken in the 2018 NFL Draft meet at MetLife Stadium next Monday, your guy will be coming off by far the better Week 1 performance.
Sam Darnold threw a touchdown pass, protected the ball and lost by one point to the Bills, 17-16. Baker Mayfield threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter alone as the Browns lost by 30 to the Titans, 43-13.
Thirty! To the Titans! At home! With Odell Beckham Jr. on the field!
None of which is to suggest Darnold was good, or even adequate, on Sunday. As coach Adam Gase said with blunt understatement after the game, “We have room for improvement.”
But the fact the No. 3 overall pick was less-bad than No. 1 illustrated a larger point: Fans of both teams — and pundits paid to pounce on them — might want to hold off on panic mode with 94 percent of the season to play.
Mayfield and Darnold entered their sophomore years as potential stars, and will enter Week 2 that way, too. But even in a best-case scenario in which they both pan out long term, there will be ups and downs ahead.
There were a couple of ups even within Sunday’s Jets loss, despite the preponderance of downs.
Again, Darnold did not have any turnovers. And he showed off his skills with a wild scramble and cross-field fling into the end zone that Le’Veon Bell caught for a two-point conversion that gave the Jets a 16-0 lead.
But the Jets’ long touchdown drive was their only one that gained more than 38 yards, and when presented with a chance to lead a game-winning drive in the final three minutes, Darnold flopped.
The worst of it was underthrowing Robby Anderson as he streaked into the open down the left side, seemingly bound for a touchdown or at least setting up another field goal attempt for hapless placekicker Kaare Vedvik.
“I thought I could have put it out there for him,” Darnold said. “Those last couple of throws there at the end, I wish I could have had back.”
On Monday, he added, “There’s no excuse for it. I just have to be better and more accurate.”
It was the kind of situation that separates merely decent quarterbacks from elite ones, especially on a day when all around him was collapsing and fans and teammates were begging to be rescued.
But it ended up reminding everyone that Darnold for now remains more an intriguing possibility than a fully formed reality.
That’s OK. It’s early in his career, it’s early in the season, and even next week, it will be early in what could be a long rivalry with Mayfield.
After re-watching the game, Gase said on Monday that Darnold played better than he initially thought.
He noted that on several occasions the quarterback tried to “hang in there” and make a play even with the rush bearing down on him, and he added that Darnold’s receivers made some key mistakes that undermined plays.
“After going back and watching it, I feel a lot better about how he performed,” Gase said, a notion with which Darnold did not disagree, even though he lamented the big plays he and his teammates failed to make.
Darnold and Mayfield both figure to be better next week than they were on Sunday, because both are better than what they showed. But come next Tuesday morning one of them will be 0-2, barring a tie.
For the sake of Darnold, the rest of the Jets and their fans, it had better be the other guy.