It’s safe for Sam Darnold to play football again, but the Jets need a lot more than him to save their season.
Darnold returns from a bout with mononucleosis when the winless Jets (0-4) face the Cowboys on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. He missed three games, and the Jets missed him. Darnold can mask some of the Jets’ offensive issues, but he’s not from Smallville and doesn’t have a big “S” on his chest.
“We can’t just expect Sam to go out there and be Superman,” Le’Veon Bell said. “We know he’s a great player. He’s going to make a lot of plays, but guys still got to do their job.”
It starts up front with the underachieving offensive line and continues to the backs, the receivers and coaches.
The Jets have played terribly offensively. They were unimpressive in Week 1 with Darnold and downright awful without him. Coach Adam Gase’s offense — with Darnold — scored eight points in their season opener against Buffalo. The offense totaled nine points in the last three games.
Defenses have loaded the box to take away Bell. The offensive line has allowed 19 sacks, 10 last week to the Eagles. The receivers have been invisible. But they’re all connected.
Third-string quarterback Luke Falk didn’t get to the right read or he held on to the ball too long. An end result is that the Jets waived Falk Saturday. Also, the receivers didn’t recognize coverages or they ran wrong routes; the line didn’t hold blocks long enough or Gase called a bad play.
“We got to play perfect, clean football, as clean as we can possibly make it,” left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. “It’s not just a one-man show or two-man show. It’s an 11-guy show. If we’re able to do that and do it consistently we’ll find a way to get this offense up and down the field and put some points on the board.”
It’s hard to expect Darnold to be able to fix everything, especially since he hasn’t played or been hit since Sept. 8. He was only cleared for contact Tuesday when test results showed his enlarged spleen had reduced to the point that his life is not in danger from a hard tackle.
“We still have to protect him, we still got to make plays for him,” Bell said. “He’s got to make sure he gets all the calls in, everybody’s got to line up, make his job easier so he don’t have to think too much. He’s going to have to shake off a little rust.”
Bell has accounted for a league-high 51.8-percent of his team’s scrimmage yards. Gase is calling Bell’s number more than anyone imagined. But now that Darnold is healthy, there are no excuses for Gase not to open the playbook and spread the touches around a little more.
Darnold can read defenses, is more mobile than Falk, and can create plays with his legs better than his former backup. Darnold also gets the ball out faster and should be able to take shots down the field. Remember Robby Anderson? He’s been targeted just 21 times and has 11 catches. Thirteen players have at least that in a game this season.
“Until you prove that you can hurt people in the passing game, that's what you are going to get,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “Right now, teams are trying to take away [Bell] and we haven't hurt anyone to make them pay . . . You would like to think that the field gets opened up a little bit more as [Darnold] comes in and plays a little bit.”
Darnold, who will be wearing extra padding to protect his spleen, said he won’t try to do too much. He said that speaking with sports psychologists throughout the season has prepared him for moments like this.
“Hopefully, I can go out there and do my thing, throw the ball where it needs to be thrown, be able to check the ball down if I have to and go make plays when it's necessary to do that,” he said. “I'm just going to go out there, continue to play football the way I play, but also stay within the offense and stay within myself.
“If we just clean up some of the details it'll make it a lot easier on everyone else. If all 11 guys do their job on every single play, we'll go down there and score.”
Notes & quotes: Outside linebacker Brandon Copeland, who is coming back from suspension, has been activated. With Falk waived, David Fales will be Darnold’s backup . . . The Jets signed defensive lineman Steve McLendon to a contract extension through 2020.