Sam Darnold admitted that there is “extra” motivation to play well when he’s on the same field as Tom Brady.
Sunday will be the first time Darnold will face Brady. The Jets’ rookie quarterback was injured when the Jets lost to the Patriots in Week 12 at MetLife Stadium.
Since returning, Darnold has played extremely well and almost led the Jets to a win over Aaron Rodgers and the Packers last week. Now Darnold gets the chance to outduel Brady at Gillette Stadium in what’s expected to be Todd Bowles’ last game as Jets coach.
“There’s always something there whenever you’re playing Brady and guys like Rodgers,” Darnold said. “I grew up watching those two play and dominate. So I’m not going to just ignore the fact that I’m playing those guys. I know that I am. I want to step up. But at the same time every single game that’s my mentality … But there is a little something extra.”
Darnold threw three touchdown passes and staked the Jets to a 15-point fourth-quarter lead against the Packers. The Jets lost in OT.
The offense has been playing better in the three weeks since Darnold returned from a foot injury. It’s a sign of his growth that the Jets hope will carry into next year.
“It's not the season that we dreamed of,” Darnold said. “We wanted to be going to the playoffs and making a run, and all that. But definitely as an offense we have gotten some momentum going. But you want to win games.”
The Jets currently are picking third in the NFL draft, and they could jump to No. 1 with a loss and an Arizona win over the Seahawks and San Francisco victory over the Rams.
It’s also possible that the Jets could leapfrog San Francisco even if the 49ers lose based on strength of schedule. But a number of other things need to go right for the Jets for that to happen.
The Patriots are playing for something. They can lock up a first-round bye with a win. If the Jets pull off the upset, though, they shouldn’t fall too far. They can’t pick lower than fifth.
Patriots rookie Sony Michel rushed for a season-high 133 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown against the Jets last month. The former Georgia running back, who missed three games due to injury, needs 119 yards to reach 1,000 for the season.
Coach Bill Belichick believes Michel can continue his strong play in the postseason.
“Sony’s done a good job for us,” Belichick said. “He’s been consistent, been tough, been dependable. I’m glad we have him. He’s certainly made some key plays for us, some big plays for us. He’s been in a lot of big games. I don’t think the moment’s too big for him. We’ll see how it goes.”
Defensive end Henry Anderson has overcome a lot to put together this unexpected season. Anderson tore his ACL as a rookie and last year he suffered a fractured larynx that required surgery.
Anderson, who the Jets acquired from the Colts during the draft for a seventh-round pick, heads into the final game tied for the team lead with seven sacks. But he’s not satisfied.
“It feels good at the moment when you get the sack,” Anderson said. “But then in the locker room after the game you kind of have that empty feeling, and wish you could have done a little bit more to help the team win.”
Key stat: 0-9: The Jets’ have lost their last nine regular-season games at New England. Their last win was in the 2010-11 AFC Divisional Round. It also was the last time the Jets made the playoffs.
Winning for Bowles. Most of the players have supported Bowles as reports about his eventual firing swirled. They continued playing hard for him. The Jets have had leads in the final three minutes of the last four games. The players undoubtedly want to end the season with a win over their chief rival, not only for themselves, but for their embattled coach.