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Sam Darnold's body of work with Jets simply is not good enough for a franchise quarterback

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) is chased out

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) is chased out of the pocket by Indianapolis Colts inside linebacker Bobby Okereke (58) and defensive back Kenny Moore II (23) in the second half of an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020. Credit: AP/AJ Mast

There were asterisks and caveats and explanations and mitigating circumstances. There always are.

Sam Darnold was playing with a supporting cast that was more cast than supporting, given the number of injuries that have devastated the Jets’ offensive unit.

There were flashes of competence. There always are.

Darnold looked good on the Jets’ first touchdown drive Sunday against the Colts, first escaping trouble to run for a first down on a third-and-6, then finding Braxton Berrios for a 16-yard scoring pass after a brilliant scramble.

But it was not enough, not even close. It usually isn’t, and the pressing question is whether it ever will be.

The still-young-but-aging-fast quarterback made several crushing mistakes, resulting in a 36-7 loss at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, an 0-3 start and another step toward losing his job to presumed No. 1 overall draft pick Trevor Lawrence in 2021.

A minute-and-a-half into the game, he saw the Colts’ Xavier Rhodes step in front of his pass attempt to recently promoted practice squad member Lawrence Cager and return it 44 yards for a touchdown.

Then, with the Colts leading 17-7 in the second quarter, he drove the Jets to a first-and-goal at the Indianapolis 7, sought out Cager in the end zone and instead found Rhodes again for a momentum-destroying pick.

On the final play of the third quarter, he threw another pick-6, with T.J. Carrie returning his interception 47 yards to make it 31-7.

There was one last indignity with 4:46 left, when the Colts sacked Darnold in the end zone for a safety that made it 33-7.

Coach Adam Gase and Darnold both were most frustrated by the turnover in the end zone, correctly identifying it as the game’s turning point.

"If we score a touchdown there, it’s a whole different ballgame," said Darnold, who wondered whether he should not have thrown the ball at all on either of his first two interceptions.

"I thought we were trending in the right direction after last week," Gase said of Darnold. "We have to go look at this and figure out what went wrong and figure out a way to fix it quickly.

"I thought last week he was very efficient, and he was doing a lot right, better than the week before."

So where do Darnold and the Jets go from here? First, to MetLife Stadium, where they will host the also-winless Broncos on Thursday night.

But in the bigger picture, this season already is a debacle on multiple levels. There is that awful record and those awful injuries, which make it difficult to evaluate Darnold fairly.

Alas, the NFL requires the final 13 games to be played, so the Jets must move forward, and when it is over to figure out whether Darnold still can be considered a plausible franchise quarterback.

It says here that he is not, with a body of work that simply is not good enough. But again, judging him has been complicated by the crumbling franchise around him.

Darnold declined to blame Gase or the team’s injuries and said his confidence remains strong.

What must he do to take the next step, then?

"I just have to play consistently," he said. "I’m not playing consistently enough to play in this league. For me, I just need to play more consistent."

What are these last 13 games going to be about? Certainly the futures of Gase and Darnold, but those subjects already are starting to feel old.

The development and assessment of young potential talent at other positions? Sure, but that will get boring quickly, too.

Things are bleak.

Comparing Darnold to potential Hall of Famer Philip Rivers is unfair, but it was impossible not to notice him being badly outclassed in Sunday’s quarterback matchup.

Rivers, even at age 38, is what a franchise quarterback looks like, and a reminder that Darnold currently does not look like one at all. Not even close.

New York Sports