Sam Darnold is regressing, he’s not a franchise quarterback and Adam Gase is hurting his development instead of helping it.
That’s been the talk, and with the Jets' dismal 1-7 record, Gase running the NFL's worst offense and Darnold throwing eight interceptions in the last three games, it's hard to dispute.
Darnold has seen and heard it all, but he defended his coach a lot better than the Jets defended the Dolphins in last week’s humiliating loss. Darnold said the players, starting with him, need to be better.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Darnold told Newsday. “People are going to say what they want to say. What I would say to them is it’s not true at all and it’s hard to speak on that when they’re not in the building.
“These last three weeks, we’ve gotten better as an offense. There’s ways that as players that we can help [Gase]. Cutting out the penalties, me not turning the ball over, those are things that we can control. From that aspect, I put it on myself and the entire offense to step it up because every play that he calls we can execute.”
Penalties have killed the Jets, which reflects poorly on Gase. The truth is, everything goes back to Gase, who was hired to take Darnold and the offense to the next level. That hasn’t happened at all, and it’s led to so many questions, including which quarterback would you rather have, Darnold or rookie Daniel Jones?
That’s a big debate heading into Sunday’s Jets-Giants game. Jones also is playing for a coach in hot water and has a penchant for giving the ball to the opposing team. He has thrown 11 touchdown passes, been intercepted eight times and lost eight fumbles in seven NFL games and is 2-5 since replacing Eli Manning. Darnold has thrown 23 touchdown passes and 24 interceptions in 18 NFL games. He’s 5-13.
But Darnold doesn’t get into those conversations, just as he doesn’t entertain last year’s big debate of whether the Giants should have taken him or running back Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 pick.
“It’s more of a media thing and controlling the narrative type of deal,” Darnold said. “For me, it’s playing the Giants’ defense and trying to see where we can go from there.”
Darnold, 22, says his confidence never wavers and that “it can’t.” His approach is similar to a closer after a blown save. As the quarterback and leader of the offense, he has to have a short memory and bounce back quickly. That’s been helpful in what has been one of the most bizarre seasons any quarterback could have — and it’s only half over.
Darnold was diagnosed with mononucleosis after the Jets' Week 1 loss, and the size of his spleen became the No. 1 concern.
Last month on Monday Night Football, ESPN aired Darnold saying “I’m seeing ghosts.” That clip during a no-touchdown, five-turnover game against the Patriots went viral and became national news. Darnold had his toenail removed after that game, too.
But he doesn’t dwell on any of this, only his performance. “For the most part I’ve been pretty good at moving on to the next play and on to the next game,” he said.
But there is one thing that’s weighing heavily on him. “I got to cut the turnovers out,” Darnold said. “That’s something that bothers me a lot . . . I need to learn from my mistakes and stop turning the ball over.”
Gase says Darnold “does a good job of wiping the slate clean.” He also continues to believe that Darnold is doing “more good than bad.” But Gase said the young quarterback needs help to get through this rough patch.
Gase puts the onus on himself to call better plays and put Darnold in position to succeed, and he's right. But the line certainly has been a major problem. The entire offense has been bad.
Darnold needs to make better decisions, though. His shotput throw under pressure that was intercepted at the 1-yard line in Miami is one that Darnold absolutely should have thrown away.
“Next time that that happens,” Gase said, “you'll see that ball probably in about the fifth row,”
Jets offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said those “impulse plays” are a point of emphasis with Darnold.
“The message for us with Sam, when things like that happen, you can save everyone else's mistakes, no one can save yours,” Loggains said. “He's getting better, but it's those impulse plays that we are going to work really hard to try to eliminate and just being smart when things break down.”
There still are eight games left in a season that has for the second straight year become all about Darnold’s development. There is time for him to show improvement and change the narrative.
Gase did note some growth in the last couple of weeks. He said Darnold’s control of the huddle has gotten better, as has his communication regarding how he wants to run the offense.
“He has been very direct in ‘Here's what I like. Here's how I want to do this,’ which cuts out all of these steps because he is telling me how he is seeing it,” Gase said. “Those type of things are the things that we need.
“We need him just grabbing this thing and saying, 'Here's what I want, here's how I want it, and this is how we are going to do it.' That's what you want.”
It sounds good, but at some point, all of this talk has to lead to Darnold showing progress and leading the Jets to some wins. Otherwise, all of the other talk about Darnold and Gase will only get louder, and for good reason.