Sam Darnold never outwardly showed how much the Jets' three-game losing streak was eating at him. That’s the California cool in him.
But the Jets rookie quarterback, who lost three games total in each of his two seasons at USC, was frustrated.
His teammates and coaches talk about the fire Darnold has inside. He may display it on the field at some point, but Darnold’s even-keeled temperament and laser focus proved beneficial during his first NFL losing streak when everyone on the outside felt another season was crashing down on the Jets.
“He's been very positive,” coach Todd Bowles said. “He understands that he's close and we're close as a team and they keep grinding at it. That's what you like about him, he keeps working. He doesn't look at the good and the bad, he looks at the progress and knowing everybody is close and making sure everybody is on the same page.
“It really wasn't hard to keep him level-headed. He already has been.”
That’s what you want in a quarterback, and the Jets believe they have one that will lead them for many years.
“He’s a mature guy for his age obviously,” second-year safety Jamal Adams said. “He’s honestly like a five-year vet. He stays grounded. He stays hungry.”
It’s impressive when you consider Darnold is only 21 and has played just five NFL games, and against some top defenses and pass rushers. He will continue to have growing pains, but you see Darnold improving with each game.
Darnold’s numbers didn’t jump out at you in Sunday’s 34-16 win over the Broncos. Darnold’s 45.5 completion percentage (10-for-22) was the lowest of his young career. But he had his first three-touchdown game.
“I’m not necessarily trying to be even-keeled or I’m not trying to stay poised that much,” Darnold said. “It’s easy for me to do that because it’s who I am. Sometimes you got to get pumped up and guys got to see it and guys respond to it. I think there’s definitely times you got to get pumped up or amped or whatever to go out there and get a win and just got to spark or ignite the fire.
“I feel like the guys on the team are starting to get a feel for me and my kind of leadership. It’s really cool to be able to just kind of be me. But also when I talk and when I do say something in the huddle guys can look at me and be like, ‘OK here we go.’ I mean business but at the same time, I’m just a normal dude who wants to get a win just like everyone else.”
The Jets (2-3) will return to practice Wednesday and start preparing for Sunday’s game against the Colts. It’s the second of three straight home games for the Jets, who know the importance of taking advantage of this stretch at MetLife Stadium.
For Darnold, it’s an opportunity to build off of last week’s success when he connected on the throws he didn’t in Week 4 in Jacksonville.
Darnold threw two perfect passes to Robby Anderson in stride for touchdowns of 77 and 35 yards. The prior week, he overthrew Anderson, Bilal Powell and Quincy Enunwa. The difference, Darnold said, was his offensive line kept Von Miller and Bradley Chubb off of him and gave him more time in the pocket.
“My feet were a lot more quiet, which means I felt like I did a better job of staying under control and taking what the defense gives me but also taking my shot when they're there,” Darnold said. We had a really good game plan and I was really confident in it.
“I was able to sit back there. Obviously the pocket’s going to close tight whenever you’re playing good defensive ends like that. It was really nice to sit in there and go through my reads and really just wait on Robby or whoever it was Jermaine [Kearse], Quincy, for those guys to get open and make the plays.”