The quarterback came first and then the coach with the "brilliant offensive mind." Together, that union was supposed to not only unseat the Patriots as top dogs in the AFC East but lead the Jets to playoff greatness.
That blueprint never materialized. In fact, it failed miserably and almost historically, making it fitting that the possible last day of the Sam Darnold-Adam Gase union will be at New England on Sunday.
Gase isn’t expected back for a third season as Jets coach. If he is, it will be a bigger upset than the Jets beating the Colts in Super Bowl III.
The Jets started 0-13 before winning their next two games. That won’t be enough to save Gase’s job. A third straight win on Sunday won’t change that, either. Gase likely will be coaching Darnold for the final time.
"I’m not thinking that way," Gase said. "Focus on what I’m doing right now."
Among the candidates to be the Jets’ next coach are Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale, Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley.
College coaches who might be on the Jets’ radar include Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley.
The Jets are 9-22 under Gase. Results aside, Darnold hasn’t taken the steps other quarterbacks have in Year 3, overall and in his draft class.
Buffalo’s Josh Allen has gotten better each year and now is one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks. He was being mentioned as an MVP candidate earlier this season. Allen has thrown 34 touchdown passes for the 12-win Bills, who are in the playoffs for the second straight year.
Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield definitely made improvements from last year. Hehas thrown 25 touchdown passes and is one win from leading the Browns to their first playoff berth since 2002.
Darnold hasn’t thrown for more than 230 yards in a game this season and has only eight touchdown passes in 11 games.
He has been criticized for not elevating the players around him, and there is some truth to that. But the Jets haven’t put the proper pieces around him.
The offensive line is ever-changing and never healthy. The Jets have no dynamic Pro Bowl-caliber receivers, and 37-year-old Frank Gore was their leading rusher this year.
"The only thing I would ask you is what quarterbacks are you talking about that haven’t had a good cast around him," Gase said.
The point is fair, and it’s one of the reasons Darnold has a chance of returning for a fourth season.
General manager Joe Douglas and whomever he chooses as coach will determine whether Darnold is someone to continue to build around or if he should be traded for more draft capital.
The Jets will pick No. 2 in the draft. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence likely is going first to Jacksonville. If the Jets were picking first, Darnold definitely would be playing his last game in green-and-white. Picking second leaves Douglas with a wide-open field and a lot of options.
He could take quarterbacks Zach Wilson of BYU or Justin Fields of Ohio State and trade Darnold. Or Oregon offensive lineman Penei Sewell could be selected — Douglas loves O-linemen — to give Darnold more protection.
The Jets also could acquire more assets by trading down in the first round and selecting a quarterback there, or they could pick a talented wide receiver such as Alabama’s DeVonta Smith or LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and stick with Darnold.
There’s a school of thought that with better coaching and a better supporting cast, Darnold could become the quarterback the Jets envisioned when he was picked No. 3 in 2018. He’s only 23.
The new coach might believe he can develop Darnold into that player. Or he might want to hand-pick his quarterback.
Darnold reiterated this past week that he wants to remain with the Jets, even after what he called the most challenging year of any he’s had playing sports.
"This has definitely been a tough season," he said. "I think everyone in the locker room can say that. We’re not used to losing as much as we did, especially in consecutive fashion as we did early in the year. It was tough on all of us."
Darnold has played well the last two games. He’s thrown for 382 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, leading the Jets to back-to-back wins.
But he’s never beaten the Patriots.
"It would be great to be able to get this last win in Foxborough," he said. "It would mean the world to me and all the guys in the locker room."
That locker room will look incredibly different next year with new coaches and new players, maybe even a new quarterback.
Notes & quotes: The Jets activated right guard Greg Van Roten off injured reserve for the finale . . . Kicker Sam Ficken, who had two kicks blocked last week, was waived. Chase McLaughlin will handle the kicking on Sunday . . . Signed to the active roster are linebacker Sharif Finch and defensive lineman Tanzel Smart . . . Elevated from the practice squad to the active roster are linebackers Brady Sheldon and Noah Dawkins.