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Sam Darnold starting to show signs of growth

Sam Darnold of th Jets throws a pass

Sam Darnold of th Jets throws a pass against the Giants at MetLife Stadium on Nov. 10, 2019. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Adam Gase noticed a change in Sam Darnold's temperament, leadership and confidence the last couple of weeks. But the Jets’ second-year quarterback didn’t put it all together until Sunday’s win over the Giants.

Was that a tease or a sign of what’s to come?

Darnold, 22, has all the tools to be a franchise quarterback. But his inconsistent play has led to questions about whether he will be.

He played well against Dallas in his first game back after a bout with mono in Week 6. Darnold engineered three touchdown drives and led the Jets to a 24-21 win.

The next three games, Darnold threw eight interceptions, lost a fumble and had a passer rating of 50.8.

Darnold rebounded against the Giants. He led three touchdown drives – Darnold had a rushing touchdown and threw for one – and wasn’t intercepted for just the second time in six games this season.

“I don't know if it was a slump or whatever it was,” Darnold said. “I think I just happened not to play well a few games back to back. I think for me it was really about just making sure that I played great, consistent football throughout an entire football game and I felt like I did that this last game. Just looking to continue to build off of that as we continue.”

To say the Jets, and Gase, need that for the remaining seven games would be an understatement.

As much as wins and losses – the Jets are 2-7 – Gase will be evaluated whether Darnold grew and improved. His development remains the most important thing in this disappointing season.

Gase talked last week about Darnold being more assertive in the huddle and more comfortable in the offense. Darnold has been telling Gase what he wants to run and how he wants to run it based on what he sees from the defense. Gase said this was a huge step for Darnold and showed his growth.

It carried over to Sunday’s game.

Darnold played with confidence and poise. He said he was “really in control out there.” Darnold made some difficult throws on the run and played clean football – no turnovers.

“That’s a big deal,” Gase said. “It’s been a couple of weeks in a row where he has walked out of these games frustrated with what has happened with turnovers and missed opportunities. For him to play a game like that is valuable to his growth.”

Gase also noted “a calmness” in Darnold. Running back Le’Veon Bell praised Darnold for his mental toughness and being able to “bounce back” after a rough stretch.

“He took command of the huddle and was making sure guys were taking it one play at a time,” Bell said. "I was kind of quiet in the huddle. Sam controlled the huddle. That’s big. That’s huge for us. I’m glad he’s able to do that. I’m glad he was doing that. He’ll only continue to grow from here."

That’s what the Jets believe. And Darnold should have an opportunity to stack some good games together against some very quarterback-friendly defenses.

The Jets’ next four opponents are the Redskins, Raiders, Bengals and Dolphins. They’re all in the bottom third of the league in total defense and sacks, and none rank higher than 26th in opposing quarterback’s passer rating.

Of course, the Jets aren’t concerned with their opponent as much as they are making sure they’re improving collectively, and especially at quarterback.

“We just have to keep building and learning from whatever game we’re at and move on to the next one and try to build off of that,” Gase said. “You’ve got to stay in the moment. You got to do a good job of playing one play at a time, you got to do a good job of making sure we take care of the football.

“The more games that we can build on it in a row, the better it is for him because it becomes habit, it becomes consistency.”

Herndon, Winters on IR. The season is over for tight end Chris Herndon (fractured rib) and right guard Brian Winters (dislocated shoulder). The Jets placed the two key members of the offense on IR. They signed cornerback Kyron Brown and linebacker B.J. Bello to the active roster. 

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