Sam Darnold was miked up for Inside the NFL last week, and gave a little glimpse of how he leads the Jets. One thing is certain: the rookie quarterback really believes in himself.
Darnold used some colorful language when he talked to the offensive unit late in the Jets 42-34 win over the Colts. He never screamed or yelled, which is not his style. But Darnold made it clear that the Jets are his team and they’re going to keep improving.
“Let’s finish the (expletive) game,” Darnold said. “Put a dagger in their heart. Let’s (expletive) go. This is where we end games. We’re going to get really (expletive) good at this, man.”
OK, it’s not, “You like that?!” — the Kirk Cousins’ exclamation that became the Redskins’ rallying cry a few years ago. But Darnold’s is becoming more vocal and more of a leader as he grows more comfortable with the offense and playing in the NFL. His play hasn’t been too bad either.
The Jets (3-3) believe they found their quarterback of not only the present but the future. Darnold will try to help the Jets to their third straight win Sunday against the quarterback the organization originally envisioned leading them in the present and future.
Cousins turned down the Jets’ fully guaranteed three-year, $90-million offer and joined the Vikings for $6 million less but a better chance to win.
Minnesota (3-2-1) reached the NFC title game last year. The Jets, who end their three-game homestand against the Vikings, haven’t made the playoffs in seven years.
The Jets hoped Cousins would help end that drought and lead them deep into the playoffs within the next few years. But now they’re entrusting Darnold, the 21-year-old who has become the cornerstone of the Jets’ revamped plan.
“I knew that the organization was going to make the best decision that was in the best interest of the team at that particular position,” left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. “So far it looks like they’ve done a great job.
“We’re moving in the right direction. But we still have a long ways to go.”
There’s little debate that Cousins is the better quarterback today. He ranks second in the NFL in completions (185), third in completion percentage (71.2), fifth in yards (1,921) and has thrown 12 touchdowns.
But there’s also little debate that Darnold appears to be the better long-term fit for the Jets. He’s nine years younger and maturing and developing each week. And Darnold has gained the trust and respect of his teammates with his approach and performance.
“He’s continued to get better with how he commands the huddle,” Beachum said. “He’s earned the job and earned the respect among his peers with his play and ability to come in and be confident in the huddle.”
“He’s growing every week,” center Spencer Long said. “He came in from Day 1 a confident leader. As games go on he’s more and more that way. He always brings poise to the huddle. He has an intense focus in the game. You want even-keeled and intense focus. You want somebody who’s going to be level throughout the ups and downs. He does that really well.”
Darnold had his second-best game as a pro last week. He completed 80 percent of his passes (24-for-30), threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns, had a passer rating of 113.9 and provided one good sound bite.
“I’m just going to continue to be myself, first and foremost,” Darnold said. “Just continue to stay within myself and understand how I am as a leader and what I like to do as a leader.
“I think I’ve grown a little bit in that aspect of it. I think I’ve definitely grown vocally. But I’m going to continue to focus on what I need to do first.”
Darnold’s focus Sunday will be trying to avoid the Vikings’ pass rush - Minnesota has 18 sacks, led by end Danielle Hunter’s seven – and lead the Jets offense on scoring drives without some key weapons.
Top target Quincy Enunwa is out with a high ankle sprain and Terrelle Pryor is doubtful with a groin injury. This should open opportunities for Jermaine Kearse and Robby Anderson, who the Jets need to be as effective in the short game as he is on deep throws.
But this will be the Jets’ toughest test to date, on both sides of the ball.
The Vikings are loaded on offense, even though they will be missing running back Dalvin Cook due to a hamstring injury. Latavius Murray, who rushed for 155 yards and a touchdown last week, will step in. But it’s the passing game that teams have been unable to stop.
Adam Thielen leads the NFL with 58 catches and 712 yards. He’s the only receiver with at least 100 receiving yards in all six games this season. Thielen and Stefon Diggs have combined for 1,147 yards – the most by any duo in the NFL – and seven touchdowns.
The Jets are expected to be without three of their top five defensive backs – Trumaine Johnson, Marcus Maye and Buster Skrine. That means Cousins could have his way inside the stadium the Jets wished he would call home for the next few years.
But the Jets are Darnold’s team; he's their offensive leader now.
“Any time you can go out there and win games as a rookie I think it says a lot about you as a player,” Cousins said. “It’s a really impressive start for him in this league. I’m sure he’s got a lot of great days ahead of him.”
The Jets like that.