It was easy to get caught up in the excitement, frustration, controversy and all-around wackiness of the Jets’ latest come-from-ahead loss, this time 44-38 in overtime against the Packers at MetLife Stadium.
But we must always remember the originally agreed-upon point of 2018 and keep our eyes on the big picture now that 2019 is but a week away.
It is the quarterback. Always the quarterback.
And on this bright Sunday afternoon that dragged into late-day darkness, the news mostly was positive. For the third time in three games since missing a month with a foot injury, rookie Sam Darnold looked good.
By the time he completed a 20-yard touchdown pass to Elijah McGuire to put the Jets ahead 35-20 late in the third quarter, he had three TD passes, no interceptions and a near-perfect passer rating of 155.5.
Oh, and he was outplaying future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers, one of his quarterbacking role models. Then, suddenly, it was the aging gunslinger’s turn.
Other than a kneel-down, Rodgers’ last four drives ended thusly: field goal, touchdown (on a run by Rodgers), touchdown (on a run by Rodgers, plus a Rogers run for the two-point conversion), touchdown (on a pass from Rodgers to Davante Adams).
Darnold’s last four drives went like this: punt, punt, punt, field goal (after being given great field position).
So to review: Darnold’s development continues apace, his midseason lull long past, and the Jets and their fans are excited about his future. But he remains a work in progress and must get better at finishing touches.
Rodgers is Rodgers, even at age 35, with nagging injuries and on a team that won’t make the playoffs. Darnold is nowhere close to the player the Green Bay quarterback is, at least not yet, but he clearly established that he belonged on the same field.
When the craziness dust had settled, Darnold was 24-for-35 for a career-high 341 yards and a career-high 128.4 passer rating.
“He played great,” Rodgers said. “He played really, really good. I like his game. He threw the ball really well, but he’s moving around making throws on the run. I think he has a bright future.”
To his credit, Darnold was in no mood to talk about the good three quarters, instead focusing on his inability to mount a game-clinching drive and on one miss in particular.
The Jets had a second-and-10 at the Green Bay 15-yard line with less than a minute left in regulation and the Packers leading 38-35.
Deontay Burnett briefly was open in the back right corner of the end zone. Darnold, throwing on the run — as usual — overthrew him. Two plays later, the Jets settled for a tying field goal.
“I had my chance late in the fourth quarter and I just missed Tay by a little bit,” he said. “We had a chance there to finish the game and we didn’t.”
The Jets landed Darnold with the third overall pick in the draft after the Giants selected Saquon Barkley second, setting up a debate that presumably will last for the rest of their careers about which team got the better of it.
But here is the best thing that can be said about both young players 15 games into their rookie seasons: Neither team would trade their guy for the other team’s guy.
Darnold is a keeper. Whatever doubts there were about that in November have been erased in December. That is far more important than the Jets’ 4-11 record, even if the players understandably are unhappy about it.
“To stand up here and say that I’m really pleased with the effort, I can say that all day long, but at the end of the day, it’s about wins and losses,” Darnold said. “That’s all anyone cares about.”
When 2019 arrives next week, that will be true. In 2018, it was enough that the kid again looked all right.