Sam Darnold threw a Hail Mary on Monday. Like many of the passes he’s attempted this year, it could be knocked down or miss its mark.
Darnold declared his undying love for the Jets’ organization and said he would like to finish his career in the green and white. The reality, however, is that the Jets are 0-13 and could move in a different direction at quarterback. Darnold might have only three games left as a Jet.
"I love it here," he said during a conference call. "I love the people around here. I love living here. I’ve always said it: I want to be a Jet for life. That decision is not necessarily up to me. But that’s how I feel."
That ultimately will be up to general manager Joe Douglas, but the Jets are closing in on a historically bad season that will determine Darnold’s fate.
If the Jets drop their remaining three games and become the third team in NFL history to go 0-16, they will get the No. 1 pick in the draft. The expectation is that they would draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and move Darnold for draft capital to help their rebuilding efforts.
Darnold, however, believes he’s the Jets’ long-term solution.
"Yeah, I do," he said. "I believe in myself as a quarterback and as a player in this league. Obviously, that decision isn’t up to me, but I’m always going to believe in myself. I have the utmost confidence in myself to be able to go out there and play good football on Sundays."
To Darnold’s credit, he does his best to drown out all the criticism coming at him and all the Lawrence noise. He definitely hears it, but he said he doesn’t pay any attention to it. His main focus is helping the Jets win a game, he said.
"I’m not worried about speculation or what others are saying outside of our locker room," Darnold said. "I’m worried about playing good football."
This has been a terrible season for the Jets and for Darnold. He hasn’t shown any signs of becoming the quarterback the Jets thought he would be when they traded up to take him third overall in 2018. They hired Adam Gase to mentor and develop him, but he’s regressed.
In Sunday’s 40-3 loss to the Seahawks, Darnold threw for 132 yards and no touchdowns. It was the fifth straight game in which he threw for fewer than 200 yards and the fifth time in his last six games that he didn’t throw a touchdown pass.
These aren’t the "Legion of Boom" Seahawks, either. Their defense came into the game allowing 309.8 passing yards and 26.8 points per game. Yet Darnold was unable to get the Jets into the end zone.
Gase says Darnold is doing his job and that the offense is "having breakdowns around him." Darnold, however, has thrown only five touchdown passes in nine games, and that ranks second even on the Jets. Joe Flacco threw six TD passes in the four games he started when Darnold was out with a shoulder injury.
Darnold acknowledged that he has a "good support system" that is helping him get through this trying season, but he remains confident in himself.
"It can be tough at times," he said. "But I believe in myself and my abilities. That’s never going to waver."
Although Gase likely won’t be back for a third season as coach, Darnold looks like someone who could benefit from a change of scenery. Ryan Tannehill, another Gase protégé, helped Tennessee get to the AFC Championship Game last year after mostly pedestrian seasons in Miami under Gase.
Things appeared to be trending in the right direction for Darnold at the end of last season. He threw 13 touchdown passes and led the Jets to a 6-2 finish in the second half of 2019, but it’s been an incredible struggle for him this year.
Darnold’s own injuries and those to the players at the skill positions around him can’t be discounted, but the progress hasn’t been there.
When he was asked to evaluate his three NFL seasons, he said to check back with him in January.
"I don’t know," he said. "I’m taking it one day at a time, one game at a time. That’s a big-picture thought that I could maybe answer a week or two after the season."
By then, the Jets should know whether Darnold is a part of their future.
Douglas probably already has an idea.