Sam Darnold and Trent Dilfer have some things in common. Both were California kids, both were quarterbacks and both went in the top 10 in their respective drafts.
But there’s one thing Dilfer sees in the Jets rookie that he wishes he had during his career: Pace. Or, as the one-time Super Bowl champion and former ESPN analyst calls it, PACE.
“Plays after critical errors,” Dilfer explained on Monday morning during an interview to promote Panini America’s Panini Super Bowl Kid Reporter sweepstakes, for which he has been a coach since 2014. “It could also be games after critical errors.”
Just as the name implies, it’s a quarterback’s ability to shake off a mistake and make a positive play. It’s something Darnold showed after his first NFL pass, an interception returned for a touchdown against the Lions, when he led the Jets to a blowout win. It’s something he showed after a rout by the Jaguars, when over the next two weeks he led the Jets’ offense to 34 points against the Broncos and 42 against the Colts. And it’s something Dilfer said Darnold has shown even since his days at USC.
“One thing he’s always done a really good job of . . . is he’ll do something bad, but what he does right after it typically is pretty darn good,” Dilfer said of Darnold. “And that’s in-game or after a game.”
Dilfer played for five different teams in his 14-year NFL career, and while he was under center for the Ravens’ Super Bowl XXXV championship after the 2000 season, his 130-113 career record and 113-129 touchdown-to-interception ratio weren’t exactly among the best of his era.
Sometimes, Dilfer said, he’d let a mistake snowball and become a bigger problem for him and his team.
“One of the worst things I did – and I did some bad stuff – but I would get so upset with myself and so disappointed and frustrated that I would let one bad play become multiple bad plays, or a bad game become multiple bad games,” he said. “It’s one of the worst things you can do as an athlete.
“And Sam has always been the opposite of that."
Of course, Darnold is still a rookie, which means growing pains are bound to happen. One of them came Sunday against the Vikings, a game in which Darnold threw three interceptions and had minus-1 passing yards in the second and third quarters.
It was Darnold’s first time dealing with the strong wind and biting cold of MetLife Stadium. Dilfer said wind definitely is a factor for quarterbacks but added that it’s something that can be easily overcome.
“Your first time or two, it can get weird, because a ball will leave your hand, you think it’s perfect, and the wind gets it, gusts the wrong way,” Dilfer said. “You’ve got to learn MetLife, you’ve got to learn which way it blows, you’ve got to learn which throws you can’t make. You’ve got to learn where to turn your brain off and say, ‘You know what, this is stupid to try to make that throw.’ Then there’s time when it gets really cold and the ball will get slick, and it kind of changes how you take it back, because you’re worried about ball security.
“But again, those are very learnable things. It’s not like because he played poorly yesterday that he’s going to play poorly in cold weather all the time . . . I think with Sam, they’ll probably practice outdoors a little bit more. He’ll get more opportunities in practice to get more comfortable with it, and I would not think it would be a trend.”