Jets coach Adam Gase doesn’t want to hear about Sam Darnold’s unimpressive passer rating. Gase is looking at Darnold’s overall growth from the first day of practice until now and he sees a quarterback on the rise.
“The entire year, every week he gets better and better,” Gase said. “There’s going to be a point where he’s going to be a really good player.”
Darnold has shown some flashes that he is going to be really good. He can throw on the run, and he can thread the needle, making sharp throws in tight spaces.
But Darnold’s penchant for the costly mistake is there also. His 84.3 passer rating ranks 27th among starters and his 12 interceptions are tied for the fifth-most in the NFL. The only regular starters who have played at least 10 games who have lower ratings are Daniel Jones, Kyler Murray, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Baker Mayfield.
“I can’t sit here and stare at the rating and be like, ‘I wish that was higher,’” Gase said. “When you have a couple of games where he’s thrown a lot of interceptions, which we’ve had two games where it hasn’t been ideal, that’s going to happen. If that was strictly what we were going on, then I probably would say something different.
“I’ve seen him improve every week.”
So when will he became a really good player? That’s really what all Jets fans want to know. When will Darnold become a quarterback who can carry his team to victory on a consistent basis? What’s it going to take?
“Experience,” Gase said. “Experience.”
Darnold, 22, has played in just 24 game since the Jets took him with the No. 3 pick in the 2018 draft. Of course, he needs time to develop and work through his mistakes.
But Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes didn’t need that much experience, and neither has Lamar Jackson.
Mahomes was the MVP last year and his team lost in overtime in the AFC Championship in his first season as a starter. Jackson, in his second season, is the favorite to be MVP this year and the Ravens have the best record in the NFL.
Darnold’s record is 9-15 as a starter, and he has just seven more touchdowns than interceptions.
There are a few differences though. Those franchises drafted far better than the Jets. They have better talent and weapons, a stronger offensive line and their systems have been built around their quarterbacks.
Darnold is playing in his second system in two years, playing for his second coach and offensive coordinator. And Jets general manager Joe Douglas is going to have to put plenty of attention into upgrading the talent all across the offense to help Darnold.
Also, Gase’s system was not built for Darnold. He’s able to tell Gase what he likes and doesn’t like. But Darnold is still learning the offense and working through his many mistakes.
But Gase believes little by little it’s starting to come together for Darnold and he eventually will have a breakthrough.
“His operation of the offense, the way he’s taking control at the line of scrimmage, all the little details that you have to have before you take that next step,” Gase said. “I look at all the tiny details that no one sees or really knows about that’s what makes me feel really confident that he’s going to be a really good player.”
Another thing Gase points to is how Darnold has had to build chemistry with players in a hurry because of all the injuries the Jets have had. Darnold has completed passes to 15 different players.
But Darnold is his own harshest critic. He was pretty hard on himself after the Jets were beaten 42-21 by Jackson and the Ravens on Thursday night.
Darnold threw two touchdown passes but he also had one badly thrown interception at the Ravens’ 5-yard line and he fumbled the ball on a sack.
He probably should have felt the pressure and thrown the ball out of bounds. Instead, the Ravens got the ball in Jets’ territory and two plays later Jackson threw one of his five touchdown passes on the night.
“I just got to play smart at all times,” Darnold said. “When you slip up in the NFL you get exposed. I just got to continue to play ball and not have those critical one or two mistakes a game.”
Darnold, too, believes it will come with experience.
Gase and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains have tried to limit Darnold’s “impulse plays” and get him to throw the ball in the dirt or out of bounds rather than take a sack or throw a pick.
It’s hard to completely change that because Darnold makes some really good throws on the move. He has thrown the ball away a little more than earlier in the season. But his interception against the Ravens was just a bad decision that cost the Jets points.
“With experience those plays will start going down,” Darnold said. “I won’t be making as many mistakes hopefully with the more experience that I get. I’m not using that as an excuse.
“If I make one bad decision that hurts the team. They could go down and score the football or put the ball in the end zone. It might change the game. It’s about eliminating those one or two. If I can do that, I think I can put our team in a lot better position.”