FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — When Sam Darnold plays his first game in more than a month on Sunday, Adam Gase won’t be concerned about his life being in danger. Neither will Darnold.
The Jets quarterback has felt well enough to play, but after he contracted mononucleosis, his spleen became enlarged and needed to be reduced before he could return to full football activities. He was medically cleared for contact Tuesday.
“We should be good,” Gase said Thursday morning. “We should not have him dying on the field.”
That’s good to hear.
Darnold has been itching to play and thought he would be cleared last week, but he said he wanted to make sure he was safe and that he was “not going to die.” He got those assurances Tuesday.
“The spleen is good,” Darnold said. “Finally.”
Now he is more concerned with leading the offense on scoring drives and the 0-4 Jets to their first win when they host the Cowboys on Sunday.
“I’m not worried about guys hitting me,” Darnold said. “I’m trusting the guys up front to do their thing. I’m trusting the receivers to go out and get open when it’s time to pass the ball. For me, it’s all about trust when I do get hit. I know I’m not in danger anymore. They’re letting me go out there and play because it’s safe, so I’m not worried about that.”
Darnold will wear custom-made padding that protects his spleen and expects to wear it for the remainder of the season.
The offensive line still needs to offer protection, something it hasn’t done this season. The Jets have allowed a league-worst 23 sacks. The Eagles sacked Luke Falk nine times and David Fales once last Sunday. Gase said it wasn’t just the offensive line’s fault, though.
“We need to do a better job protecting the quarterback and we need to get the ball out on time,” he said. “We need to run the right routes, it’s got to be all of us, it’s got to be the right play call. We have to do a better job as an entire unit. That will help the quarterback.
“It’s all of us. I’m telling you, there was two play calls where I didn’t put us in a good spot. There was nobody open. It’s all of us. We got to do a better job.”
The offense has been putrid without Darnold. It produced one touchdown and one field goal in the last three games.
Darnold should be able to help that and cover some of the protection issues, but he’s not the savior who will fix all of their problems.
“Right now we’re not a very good offense,” coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “Sam is not a magic wand. He is a really good player that is going to lift the execution of this team. He’s a really gifted player with the ball in his hands and we’re really excited to have him. But there are still things we need to clean up.”
There also is the rust factor.
Darnold last played on Sept. 8 in the Jets’ Week 1 loss to the Bills. He threw for 175 yards, a touchdown and a two-point conversion. He began throwing the football again only last week, but he went through two practices last week before being ruled out and will have done everything this week leading up to the game. He believes his conditioning and timing are getting better.
“Having a couple of weeks of practices under my belt is a good thing,” Darnold said. “It’s definitely going to help with that, but there’s nothing like Sunday. I think going out there and playing the first couple of series will be a little bit of a shock to the system. But I think I’m going to be ready. Hopefully after those couple of series, I’ll feel right at home.”