FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — General manager Mike Maccagnan acknowledged Thursday the New York Jets‘ offense might be functioning better with an experienced quarterback, but refused to say the team is sacrificing wins to develop Sam Darnold.
“I don’t know if you go in with the mindset of, ‘Hey, we’re just going to write this one off,'” he said. “We’re like everybody else: We want to win football games. … It’s not enjoyable to go out and lose games every week.
“I think anybody who has gone through that, or is currently going through that, it’s not a great experience. That’s not what we get paid to do. But I do think that you’re going to have to go through that maturation process at some point in time with the quarterback.”
Shortly before his midseason sitdown with reporters, Maccagnan looked out his second-floor window at the team’s training facility and noticed the first player on the practice field was Darnold. Maccagnan later shared the anecdote, painting the rookie as having the intangibles of a future franchise quarterback.
The Jets (3-5), losers of two straight, are ranked 29th in total offense and 19th in scoring offense. Darnold is tied for the league lead in interceptions, but he also has displayed a lot of promise.
“When you look at him from kind of his approach to the game, his work ethic … it’s something we knew coming in, but obviously watching him kind of handle that situation, handle the locker room, how he approaches it, his passion to be good and his competitiveness, that’s been a really big positive for him,” said Maccagnan, who drafted Darnold third overall after trading up.
The Jets have veteran Josh McCown on the bench, but they decided to go into the season with Darnold as their starter. The former USC star has taken every snap. Like the rest of the team, he’s prone to bouts of inconsistency.
Maccagnan, known for his measured approach in public, lamented the team’s up-and-down nature, but he refused to say it would be a disappointment if they fail to make the playoffs.
The Jets haven’t reached the postseason since 2010 and they’re 3-5 for the third straight season — all under Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles. The Bowles-Maccagnan regime, installed in 2015, is 23-33. Both men received contract extensions after last season; they’re under contract through 2020.
The GM, noting the team will have a league-high $100 million in projected cap space in 2019, expressed hope that next season could be a breakthrough.
“Yeah, I think we have a lot of things in place,” Maccagnan said. “With a successful offseason, we can actually put ourselves in a position where I think — with the cap space, cash, free agency and draft picks — we could be in a position to really springboard this thing forward.”
While the clouds continue to hover over East Rutherford, the sun appears to have peeked through in Florham Park. The New York Giants sit at 1-5 and in last place in the NFC East while their aging quarterback struggles. The New York Jets are 3-3 and realistically thinking of the postseason with their promising rookie leading the way. These are two franchises seemingly headed in opposite directions, and their fates can be traced back to the offseason.
The decisions that will be debated for decades occurred atop this year’s NFL draft. The Giants passed on a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick and selected running back Saquon Barkley out of Penn State, in part because they had Eli Manning on the roster. Barkley is proving to be a breathtaking playmaker, no doubt, but his star has been shining in defeat. The Jets happily grabbed quarterback Sam Darnold out of USC with the very next pick. He is proving to be the franchise pillar that they’ve desperately desired for decades. They’re happy with what they’ve received from him this season and even more excited about what the future might hold.
Now six weeks into the season, we’re able to see a bit more clearly where these teams stand and the long-term effect these picks will have on each franchise.
Does the development of Darnold and decline of Manning keep hammering home the mistake the Giants made in not drafting a quarterback?
Hell, yeah. The Giants made a shortsighted decision, thinking they could squeeze another productive year or two out of Manning to fulfill their win-now game plan. Now, the organization and its fan base have an up-close view of what might have been, as Darnold continues to make progress in the same city. Look, the Giants wouldn’t have been a contender this season even if they had drafted Darnold. He would be backing up Manning or experiencing on-the-job growing pains, which has been the case with the Jets. But at least they’d have a succession plan. Now, in a case of role reversal, the Giants will go into the offseason in quarterback limbo, desperate to find an answer in free agency or the draft. Desperation makes teams do dumb things. Look at the Jets; they drafted Christian Hackenberg in 2016, for crying out loud — and they were desperate last offseason too, but they aggressively traded up and benefited from a little draft-day luck to escape potential disaster. The Giants will have to do the same thing in the offseason, which means they might not be a viable contender until 2020 — if everything goes right. It’s compelling to note that Darnold passed Manning this week in ESPN’s QBR rankings, which take into account all aspects of quarterback play, not just passing. They’re ranked 25th and 27th, respectively, with Darnold at 44.7 and Manning at 41.4. Using this objective measure, Darnold already is as good as Manning, which is stunning. — Cimini
Until the Giants find a suitable replacement to build their franchise around, yes. It’s the most important position in football by a wide margin. The opportunities were there for them to find their franchise quarterback at No. 2 overall. Instead, they chose a running back. It’s not that Barkley isn’t a sensational player. He is. It’s just that he plays a position that they’re realizing isn’t nearly as vital to winning as quarterback.
Just look at Thursday night, when Barkley was the best player on the field. He had 130 yards rushing and 99 yards receiving. What kind of outcome did it have on the game? The Giants lost by 21. If a quarterback is the best player on the field, you don’t lose by 21. Darnold has shown signs of being everything the Giants need and the Jets wanted. He has the arm, the mobility, the smarts and temperament that would suggest he’s on pace to have a successful career in New York. That might leave serious envy on the other side. The Giants are stumbling badly with Manning. He’s 37 years old and eroding behind a leaky offensive line despite having perhaps the best weaponry in the NFL. It has become hard to watch. The Giants have scored fewer than 20 points in four of six games, but they are standing behind their quarterback through the struggles. “We believe in Eli,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said on Friday. The Giants wanted to desperately make one more run with Manning. It didn’t matter that the timing was perfect to take a quarterback with a new coach, a new general manager and an aging quarterback, coming off a 3-13 season and with the No. 2 overall pick in a strong QB draft. They didn’t. And now they’re paying for the mistake while simultaneously watching Darnold shine across town with the Jets. — Raanan
Which team appears to have a stronger foundation on which to build and why?
I’d give a slight edge to the Jets, but this is tricky because there’s some projection involved. Let me explain. Right now, I’d say the Giants have better talent on paper than the Jets, but Darnold’s presence tilts the scale in the Jets’ favor because we all know the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. This, of course, is based on the belief he will develop into a playoff-caliber quarterback. No one can say for sure after only six games, but he certainly seems to have the traits –- tangible and intangible –- to be that kind of player. And that gives the Jets an edge in the rebuilding process. In terms of non-quarterback talent, the Giants have more blue-chip players than the Jets — Odell Beckham Jr., Landon Collins and Barkley to name three. Jamal Adams is approaching Collins’ stature, but the Jets don’t have anyone close to Beckham and Barkley. Those are terrific building blocks for the Giants. To complete the puzzle, they need the quarterback, and that could cost them significant assets if they have to trade up in the draft.
Another reason to favor the Jets: In cap space, they have approximately $150 million more than the Giants in 2019 and 2020, according to overthecap.com. — Cimini
The Jets. The Giants have the skill position players (Barkley, Beckham, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram). The Jets have the quarterback who appears will be their centerpiece for years to come. The latter is significantly more important and harder to find. Just ask the Jets. They had trouble locating the next Joe Namath; they’ve been searching for a true franchise quarterback for almost 50 years. Maybe they finally did. The Giants passed on their first opportunity to find the next Manning. Who knows how long it will take for them to find his successor. Maybe he’s in next year’s draft or already on the roster. Or maybe he has not even been born yet. Anything is possible in the search for a QB. The Giants are in a spot that nobody in the NFL envies with uncertainty at the quarterback position. Aside from that, the Giants’ roster has the better building blocks. Beckham and Barkley are among the league’s top playmakers. Collins has proved to be a Pro Bowl player on defense. The Jets can build around safety Adams, defensive lineman Leonard Williams and linebacker Darron Lee. They need to add a difference-making playmaker (or two) to support Darnold and a dominant pass-rusher. Still, overall, they’re in better shape because they appear set at the most important position in football. —Raanan
What should/can the Giants do with Manning in the short term? It’s kind of funny when Shurmur gives a strong vote of confidence to Manning. I mean, really, what are his options? Alex Tanney? Kyle Lauletta? It’s not like he has a Josh McCown on the bench, a capable veteran who can win games.
The Giants should ride Manning until they’re mathematically eliminated. Remember, this is a new coach, trying to change the culture. Winning matters, and Manning gives them the best chance to win. When they’re eliminated, give Lauletta a shot, assuming he’s more prepared than Davis Webb was a year ago. It won’t be pleasant for Manning, a franchise icon, but the Giants must think of the future, not the past. — Cimini
It’s becoming clear that the Manning era in New York is nearing a close. If the Giants can trade him (a big if … but maybe to the Jacksonville Jaguars?), they should. If not and they continue to sputter along offensively, they need to put Manning on the bench. They have no choice. The Giants won’t be able to justify starting Manning much longer if they remain impotent offensively over the next two weeks against the Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins. At least some players in the locker room already have lost confidence in their quarterback. The Giants will need to look at rookie Lauletta after the bye week for a Monday night matchup on Nov. 12 at the San Francisco 49ers. Lauletta might be able to make some plays with his legs; that could reinvigorate the offense, to some degree, for the final eight games of the season. The Giants can then give Manning one final goodbye later in the season in their final home game. The two-time Super Bowl winner deserves a better farewell than where it appears to be heading right now. One last hurrah at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 30 against the Dallas Cowboys would be a good way to say goodbye to a Giants legend. —Raanan
“I don’t know nothing about drafting a quarterback or anything like that, but I thought he was the No. 1 pick, for sure,” Miller told New York area reporters Wednesday on a conference call.
Miller, who faces Darnold and the New York Jets on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, became the latest defensive star to praise the rookie quarterback. In the preseason, Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman spoke effusively of Darnold.
“I thought he was the best offensive player in the draft,” Miller said. “He’s a great quarterback. He’s been playing well. They haven’t been coming up with the wins, but he’s playing really well.”
Actually, Darnold has been the NFL’s lowest-rated passer (63.8) over the past three weeks — all losses for the Jets (1-3). Perhaps Miller, a savvy veteran, was engaging in some gamesmanship.
Miller sent mixed signals, saying Mayfield was “rightfully” the top pick. But he quickly added, “In my opinion, just watching everything from a pass-rusher’s point of view, I just feel like he was the No. 1 pick in the draft. He wasn’t the No. 1 pick, but he’s definitely playing like it.”
Darnold smiled when Miller’s comments were relayed to him.
“I mean, it’s a good feeling; I’m not going to lie. But at the same time, I can’t worry about that,” Darnold said. “But when people like that have high praise for me or they’re saying cool things, it’s obviously very flattering.”
One of Darnold’s most impressive traits, Miller said, is his ability to escape pressure. In that respect, he said Darnold is nothing like Miller’s former teammate Peyton Manning.
“As a pass-rusher, you want a guy who will fall when you get to him, kind of like how Peyton was,” Miller said with a laugh. “That’s exactly what you want. When you get close to him and you get ready to touch him, just falls. Sam, he’s not like that. He’s going to create space and get the ball downfield. Rightfully so. He’s a playmaker.”
Darnold has been sacked 10 times in four starts, but he also has displayed the ability to make plays outside the pocket. He also has struggled in recent weeks, with only two touchdowns and four interceptions in the past three games.
Darnold believes he’s “on the edge” of a breakout game.
Mayfield, selected No. 1 overall, threw two touchdown passes but also had two interceptions and two lost fumbles in the Cleveland Browns‘ 45-42 overtime loss to Oakland Raiders. It wasn’t pretty, either, for Darnold, Rosen and Allen.
Here’s closer look at each of their performances Sunday:
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Stat line: 16-of-33, 151 yards, two interceptions, sacked seven times, 36.3 rating
Positives: There were few for Allen, who came crashing back to earth after an upset win of the Minnesota Vikings last week. Allen and the Bills’ offense managed only 37 net passing yards until they received possession with about six minutes remaining in the game. Allen completed his first five passes of that drive for 40 yards in what was the only glimmer of a competent passing game Sunday from Buffalo.
Negatives: Allen’s reckless heave while being chased outside of the pocket on a third down late in the second quarter resulted in an underthrown pass and interception by Green Bay’s Jaire Alexander. Allen’s other two turnovers — an interception by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix during a collision with Kelvin Benjamin, and a fumble when Allen appeared to be down — were less his fault. However, Allen lacked accuracy early in the game and seemed to hold the ball too long at times, resulting in seven sacks.
What’s ahead in Week 5: The Bills return home next Sunday against the Tennessee Titans for their only game at New Era Field over a span of five weeks. Allen will face a Titans defense that allowed Carson Wentz to complete 66 percent of his passes for 348 yards and two touchdowns in an Eagles loss Sunday. — Mike Rodak
Sam Darnold, New York Jets
Stat line: 17-of-34, 167 yards, TD, no interceptions, sacked three times, 74.0 rating
Positives: Despite heavy pressure from the Jacksonville front, Darnold managed to play his first interception-free game. Give him credit for that, especially since he had no support from the run game. Before Sunday, he was one of only four quarterbacks with an interception in each game. He spread the ball around more than previous weeks, getting the running backs and tight ends involved — an indication he’s starting to see the field better.
Negatives: Darnold struggled to find a rhythm, in part, because the Jaguars mixed their coverages more than usual. Jacksonville believes Darnold has big-time potential, but felt it could confuse him by showing different looks. He missed a few open receivers, including a deep ball to Robby Anderson that would’ve resulted in an 86-yard touchdown over Jalen Ramsey. That would’ve made it a six-point game in the fourth quarter — a costly mistake.
What’s ahead in Week 5: The Jets return home for the start of three consecutive home games. First up are the Denver Broncos, who will be playing on a short week after a Monday night contest. If the Broncos get ripped apart by the Kansas City Chiefs, they’ll be in an ornery mood for their trip to New Jersey. Darnold will face one of the NFL’s most dangerous defensive players, Von Miller, who has the ability to wreck a game. The rookie is getting his first dose of NFL adversity, and how he responds will say a lot about his mental toughness. — Rich Cimini
Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
Stat line: 21-for-41 for 295 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions and two sacks. Rating: 70.7
Positives: Mayfield gave the Browns plenty of chances to win with some exciting plays. His 49-yard touchdown to Darren Fells in the first half was a laser that hit Fells right in stride. His 59-yard completion to Antonio Callaway in the fourth quarter set up a touchdown that could have led to a win. Mayfield was frequently able to squirm out of trouble and had four completions longer than 20 yards.
Negatives: Turnovers. Four of them. Three of which gave the Raiders 21 points. Mayfield said all were on him, though only two of the four were totally his. An interception at the end of regulation set up overtime, and a bad center-quarterback exchange gave the Raiders seven points. A third was caused by Oakland’s pass rush forcing Mayfield to fumble, another when a receiver didn’t get out of his break and the ball was intercepted. “We turned the ball over too many times,” Mayfield said. “Gave them a chance. And in this league when you turn the ball over like we did today — like I did — you’re not gonna win those games.”
What’s ahead in Week 5: The Browns return home to face the Baltimore Ravens, who entered Sunday night’s game against Pittsburgh the league’s top-ranked defense in scoring and fifth-ranked in points allowed. The Ravens have gone 18-2 in the past 20 games between the two teams. — Pat McManamon
Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals
Stat line: 15-of-27, 180 yards, TD, no interception, sacked once, 88.5 rating
Positives: Rosen looked capable in his first career start. He commanded both the huddle and the offense with a veteran’s presence, moving his offensive line in position while guiding the offense down the field in a pressure-packed fourth quarter with the game tied. Most of all, Rosen made plays when needed. He showed off his strong arm and ability to keep plays alive with his feet.
Negatives: There was little Rosen did wrong Sunday against the Seahawks. The only thing that could’ve counted as a mistake was when he missed a wide open Christian Kirk in the end zone early in the second quarter. But Rosen didn’t throw an interception and even though he threw for only 180 yards, it wasn’t his fault. His receivers had at least four drops, including two potential touchdowns.
What’s ahead in Week 5: Rosen gets his second career start Sunday at San Francisco in a winnable game for Arizona. He’ll take what he learned against the Seahawks and implement it against the banged-up Niners. If Rosen can get help from his receivers, the outcome could differ from Sunday’s. — Josh Weinfuss
What do you want to do in New York that you haven’t done yet?
Sam Darnold: I haven’t had the great pizza that everyone is talking about. So that’s one thing I want to do. Other than that, I haven’t gone to the Jersey shore. I don’t know if that’s a New York thing. You know what I want to do? I want to go to the 9/11 Memorial. I heard that’s amazing and crazy to look at, an amazing museum. So I haven’t done that. I’d like to do that.
Describe the last time you got recognized by a fan in public.
Darnold: It was actually [Monday]. Me and Josh [McCown] went into Panera Bread. We were just kind of sitting down and having our sandwiches, and this guy came out. I thought he was about to faint because he was so excited to see the both of us. He took a picture. It was kind of funny.
Do you get recognized more in New York or Los Angeles?
Darnold: Oh, definitely here, especially with Jets fans. They’re everywhere. I mean, the USC thing is pretty crazy, too, but there are a lot of things in L.A. New York is kind of like L.A. If I walk around, not everyone is going to notice me because not everyone watches football, especially in New York. But I feel like everyone in Jersey is a Jets fan, and I always get recognized here.
What do you miss about California?
Darnold: It’s starting to rain here a little bit — so the weather. No, I mean, I love it here. I think the biggest thing about California is the people, especially my friends and family. That’s what I miss.
As the USC quarterback, you must have met some celebrities. Who?
Darnold: I met quite a few people. Will Ferrell is up there. I got a chance to meet and hang out with Sam Hunt. He’s actually a pretty cool dude. I got to go to a concert a couple of years ago. He actually played at UAB (quarterback, 2005-07). He was coached by Tyson Helton, who coached me in college at USC. So it kind of came full circle and I was able to hook up with him and hang out for just a little bit. Russ [Vitale] the Rapper, I met him.
You had Will Ferrell as a guest on your weekly podcast last year at USC. What’s he like?
Darnold: So he’s a funny dude. I’m a huge Will Ferrell fan. I met him at the Cal game. He actually came out to watch us at Cal a couple of years ago. He’s just a normal dude. A lot of people think, oh, he must be hilarious all the time. Nah, he’s just kind of chill. Very relaxed dude, but when he sees an opportunity to make a joke or say something funny, he always does. He’s a good dude.
What about celebrities in New York?
Darnold: I mean, I’m friends with Gary V [Vaynerchuk, entrepreneur and avid Jets fan], which is pretty cool.
What do you do for fun away from football?
Darnold: I just like hanging out with my friends, honestly. I mean, as long as I’m in good company and with cool people and we’re just hanging out and having a good time, that’s usually what I like to do. When I’m home, if you want to go to the beach or anything like that, I’m always down. When I’m here, I’ll hang out, grab a bite to eat. I’ll play a video game every now and then. But not too many video games. I’m open to a lot of things, but the biggest thing is just having cool people to hang out with.
Tell us something about you that people don’t know.
A lot of people think you’re a surfer, and you’re not, right?
Darnold: Yeah, I’m not a surfer. A lot of people think I am. That might be one thing. It’s funny, I did a commercial for Toyota, and they had a surfboard on top of the car I was driving in the commercial. I was like, ‘Guys, I don’t surf.’ Everyone thinks I surf. All my friends give me crap when someone says, ‘Oh, Darnold surfs.’ They’re like, ‘Dude, you can’t keep telling people you surf. You know you can’t surf.’ All my friends surf.”
What kind of music do you listen to before a game?
Darnold: It kind of depends, actually. I don’t have a superstition or anything, but before every game I have to listen to “15th and the 1st” by Gucci Mane. You don’t know that song? You should listen to it. It’s a good one to listen to right before you go to bed [joking]. I’ve listened to that song since senior year of high school. Yep, right before the game, that was the first song I listened to. But after that, whatever I feel like.”
What is something that would surprise people to see in your apartment?
Darnold: (long pause) I don’t know. I just have a normal apartment, dude. I don’t have anything for you.
Any big splurges with your signing bonus, either for you or your family?
Darnold: I mean, I did a little thing with Kay Jewelers and I was able to get my mom a few thousand bucks, which was cool. They put together a lot of stuff with that in terms of redesigning our house and doing some stuff there in California, which was really cool.
What about for yourself?
Darnold: One thing people should know about me is I’m a simple, simple guy. Some people can probably already guess that. I mean, I don’t need anything to make me happy. I already have all that I want, so I’m definitely the guy who’s probably not going to spend any of his NFL money.
So we’ll never see you driving a Porsche?
Darnold: That’s the only thing, I might drive a nice car. [smiling] But I’m definitely not going to go crazy and buy chains and a bunch of jewelry. Until I get a girlfriend or a wife, that’s never going to change.
Best thing you ever purchased?
Darnold: To be honest, I get a lot of stuff for free. You would think once you become a professional, you’re going to get all this money and spend it, but there are so many different perks. I get a bunch of free stuff from Nike all the time, so I don’t need to be spending money. So I haven’t bought anything crazy.
“From my point of view, I just have to play better, simple as that,” Darnold said. “It’s not acceptable, the way I played. I know that, and I have to take it like a man. I feel like I’m responsible for some of the stagnant offense we had. I just have to play better, that’s it.”
Unlike Mayfield, Darnold struggled to spark the Jets. He completed only 15 of 31 passes for 169 yards and two interceptions, both of which came in the final 1:27 of the game.
Concerned about the Browns’ blitz, the Jets played extremely conservative, as Darnold didn’t attempt any long throws. In the first two games, offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates took chances, seemingly not worried about Darnold’s lack of experience.
That changed on Thursday night.
Darnold struggled whenever he wasn’t throwing a screen pass. Darnold was 6-of-8 for 63 yards on screen passes, only 9-of-23 (39 percent) with two interceptions on all other passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“He did as well as he could with the plays that were given to him,” said wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, tip-toeing around the issue. “They had a lot of pressure and that kind of messed us up.”
After Browns starter Tyrod Taylor left with a concussion, the game featured the first and third overall picks in the draft. The Browns passed on Darnold to take Mayfield, who delivered the franchise’s first victory in 20 games. He rallied the Browns from a 14-0 deficit.
“I know Baker is a great player,” Darnold said. “He did some great things at Oklahoma and he continued to do great things tonight. I felt the crowd rallied pretty well around him. At the same time, I have to continue to do my job and keep the offense rolling. I’m not worried about (Mayfield).”
Darnold regressed after two promising starts. He avoided turnovers until the fourth quarter, when he missed two chances to stage his first come-from-behind win.
With 56 seconds left, the Jets got the ball back – one last chance to pull off a miracle – a long heave to Robby Anderson was picked off by Terrance Mitchell.
After three games, Darnold has four interceptions – two in the first quarter, two in the fourth quarter.
“I felt really comfortable throughout the whole game,” he said. “I just made stupid mistakes in the fourth quarter and missed opportunities throughout the whole game. I have to play better, and that’s on me.”
CLEVELAND — There are bad losses, and there are really bad losses — the kind that stick to a team for years, even decades. The New York Jets have experienced a few of those. The Mud Bowl. The Mark Gastineau game in Cleveland. The Fake Spike. The Butt Fumble. And now there’s another clunker that will torture their fan base.
After a dominant first half, the Jets were hypnotized by Baker Mayfield‘s magic and suffered a kick-in-the-gut loss to the Cleveland Browns, 21-17, on Thursday night at FirstEnergy Field. It was the Browns’ first win in 635 days, ending a 19-game winless streak. Let’s be clear, the Browns no longer are a laughing stock, but it’s the way the Jets lost that will haunt them.
Welcome to Bereave-Land.
The Jets choked away a 14-0 lead.
They killed themselves with dumb penalties, none bigger than Morris Claiborne‘s holding penalty on a two-point conversion. They had it stopped, but Claiborne’s mistake gave the Browns another try — and they converted to make it 14-14.
The Jets were embarrassed and fooled by the Browns. Oh, the pain.
Worse, Sam Darnold, with a chance to stage his first come-from-behind win in the final two minutes, ruined it with an interception. He threw another pick in the final seconds.
The Jets showed some life amid the Mayfield onslaught, taking a 17-14 lead, but they blew that, too, as their defense ran out of gas and allowed a 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. This was their third game in 11 days, a brutal opening schedule, and the fatigue took its toll.
But it never should’ve come to that. The Jets’ offense couldn’t get anything going, as Darnold (14-for-29, 244 yards) struggled at times against the Cleveland blitzes. Wide receiver Robby Anderson lost a fumble deep in Jets’ territory, another killer mistake.
This was an epic collapse by the Jets, who saw their golden boy get outplayed by Cleveland’s golden boy, the first overall pick in the draft. Darnold had no downfield passing game, only bubble screens to Quincy Enunwa. Former Browns running back Isaiah Crowell provided the only highlights — two touchdown runs — but he tainted the second score with a crude celebration that resulted in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
The Jets wasted a brilliant effort by the defense, which battered Tyrod Taylor (four sacks, 10 QB hits) and sent him to the sideline with a concussion. In retrospect, it was the worst thing they could’ve done. They also blocked a punt that set up a touchdown. No matter. Mayfield energized the Browns and the crowd, and the Jets couldn’t figure out how to deal with it.
The heat will be turned up on coach Todd Bowles, who lost to the Browns for the first time in four meetings. The lack of discipline was troubling. So was the lack of killer instinct.
DETROIT — New York Jets rookie Sam Darnold made history Monday night, becoming the youngest quarterback in history to start a season opener.
It took him one play to make more history — the wrong kind — before a tremendous turnaround.
On his first NFL pass, Darnold threw a pick-six, an ill-advised interception that was returned 37 yards for a touchdown by Detroit Lions safety Quandre Diggs. Darnold joined Jameis Winston (2015) and Brett Favre (1991) as the only quarterbacks in the past 27 years whose first career pass attempt was intercepted for a touchdown.
Unfazed by his nightmarish start, Darnold — 21 years, 97 days old — grew up quickly on a national stage, leading the Jets to a 48-17 victory at Ford Field. It tied their largest scoring output in the past 10 years.
“On that interception, I was pretty nervous,” Darnold said. “After that, I put it behind me.”
Darnold completed 16 of 21 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns, but the most telling number was this: He had only four incomplete passes after the pick-six, demonstrating the cool that led the Jets to draft him third overall.
The former USC star had plenty of help, as the Jets intercepted five passes and scored on offense, defense and special teams for the first time since the 2012 opener. They set the franchise record for the most points in a road game.
In what was billed as the franchise’s most anticipated quarterback debut since Joe Namath in 1965, Darnold gave the Jets’ long-suffering fan base a queasy feeling on the first play. He committed a classic rookie mistake, throwing across the field. On a play-action, he rolled to this right and threw to the left, trying to hit running back Bilal Powell on a deep wheel route up the sideline. Diggs set the trap and Darnold, thinking Powell was in the clear, took the cheese.
It was a bold play call by offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, but the coaches wanted to show confidence in Darnold and send a message to the Lions. It backfired in the worst possible way.
For months, the Jets praised Darnold’s poise and mental toughness, saying those traits would serve him well when adversity strikes. They just never imagined it would happen on the first play of his career.
To his credit, Darnold regained his composure and led the Jets to 17 unanswered points. He finished the first half by completing 11 of his next 14 passes. The Jets led at halftime, 17-10, and they blew it open in the second half by scoring 21 points in a span of 2 minutes, 36 seconds in a 31-point third quarter.
They scored on an interception return by Darron Lee, their first defensive touchdown since 2013 (a 73-game drought), and a 78-yard punt return by Andre Roberts. The last time they scored on a punt or kickoff return 2012.
The Jets dismantled the Lions in every phase, but the night belonged to Darnold, who threw two long touchdown passes — 41 yards to Robby Anderson and 21 yards to Quincy Enunwa. On Anderson’s play, Darnold used a shoulder fake to freeze the deep safety, giving his receiver a step.
Darnold was cool under pressure, completing several clutch passes on third down. His most important throw of the night came in the first quarter, when he was flushed from the pocket on third-and-7 and made an off-balance pass to Enunwa for eight yards. On the next play, Isaiah Crowell scored on a 6-yard run. In the third quarter, Crowell scored again, a 62-yard run.
“As a football player, whether it’s Pop Warner, high school, college or now the NFL, your dream is to play the game,” Darnold said. “That’s what I want to do. I just want to go out and play every single day.
“If Josh got the nod, I was going to be pumped for him and be the best backup I could be. Now that I know I’m the starter, it’s just an amazing feeling.”
Darnold, who started only 22 games at USC, played beyond his years in the preseason, impressing the coaching staff and teammates with his maturity and poise in the pocket. It became apparent after the second game that he was trending toward the starting job.
As for being the youngest Week 1 starter, Darnold said it’s “cool” and “awesome,” but also a reminder.
“Knowing I’m young compared to a lot of other starting quarterbacks,” he said, “it’s … I don’t know. For me, I think it’s just affirmation, knowing I have a long way to go.”
Not surprisingly, McCown took the news in stride, displaying no ill will. He opened his news conference with a touch of gallows humors, saying he’d gladly take any questions about quarterback Davis Webb, whom the Jets signed to their practice squad.
McCown acknowledged he’s “personally bummed,” but he said Darnold proved he’s ready.
“Obviously, as a competitor, you’d love to play, but I kind of understood which direction it was headed,” said McCown, who will make $10 million in his backup role. “I’m excited for our team and excited for the future. … We’re backing it 100 percent.”
Darnold’s first assignment will be a challenging — a prime-time game on the road, in a noisy indoor stadium. Coach Todd Bowles insisted he’s not concerned by the rookie’s lack of experience.
“He’s been playing football his whole life,” Bowles said. “He’s not just coming fresh out of the womb and grabbing a ball for the first time. He’s been in crowds, he’s seen crowds and he’s been playing football. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.”
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Congratulations, Sam Darnold. You got the job. Free advice: Wear extra padding and don’t listen to talk radio.
Named Monday as the New York Jets‘ starting quarterback, a move that surprised no one in the Western Hemisphere, Darnold steps into one of the toughest gigs in sports. This is a star-crossed franchise with a terrible history for developing young quarterbacks. He will preside over a rebuilding team with a mediocre offense that will struggle to protect him.
Oh, by the way: The expectations are out of control, fueled by lavish endorsements from Joe Namath, Josh Norman and Tony Romo, who actually said Darnold has the potential to be on the same level as Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
Can we let him play a game first?
Darnold was rushed into the job after a solid — if not stellar — preseason, but this is what happens when you’re the third overall pick in a place like New York. Ready or not, he’s the Sam-chise. His biggest threat, Teddy Bridgewater, was removed from the equation last week, traded to the New Orleans Saints. The 2018 season is all about Darnold, growing pains and all.
Realistic expectations? Let’s talk about Carson Wentz, 2016.
Drafted second overall by the Philadelphia Eagles, Wentz was handed the starting job when Sam Bradford was traded late in the preseason to the Minnesota Vikings, who were desperate to replace the injured Bridgewater. (Ah, so many parallels.) Wentz started off great as a rookie, cooled off around midseason and finished with pedestrian rookie numbers — 16 starts, 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. The Eagles finished 7-9, but there was optimism because they knew they had found their franchise quarterback.
We know what happened last year. Wentz played at an MVP level before suffering a late-season knee injury, robbing him of the chance to finish the Eagles’ Super Bowl journey.
The Jets would be thrilled if Darnold follows Wentz’s career arc, sans knee injury. Their plan is to give Darnold his on-the-job training this season, hoping for team improvement as well. (Let’s be honest, a 7-9 record would be a success.) In 2019, they can bolster his supporting cast with $90 million in cap room, setting themselves up for a serious run. This isn’t to suggest they’ll be “Philly Special” in 2019, but it’s a practical timeline with regard to Darnold’s growth.
“To me, it’s all about what Philadelphia did with Carson Wentz,” former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason said. “I’m not saying the Jets are going to the Super Bowl next year, but get Sam Darnold to that level in Year 2.”
In 2016, Esiason remembers getting a phone call from an excited Frank Reich, his friend and former college roommate. Reich, the Eagles’ offensive coordinator at the time, had traveled to North Dakota State to work out Wentz before the draft and was blown away by his talent and maturity. A few days later, Esiason said, the Eagles traded up, putting themselves in position to draft Wentz.
The Jets followed a similar path to Darnold. Their draft-day giddiness hasn’t faded, but don’t expect a Year 1 miracle.
The offensive line hasn’t had its top pass protector, left tackle Kelvin Beachum, for the entire preseason. He’s expected to play Week 1 against the Detroit Lions, but it’ll take a few weeks before he’s in top shape.
There’s also the schedule — three games in 11 days to start the season, including two on the road. That’s a mental and physical strain for any quarterback, let alone a 21-year-old rookie.
A wise leader such as Josh McCown (or Bridgewater) would’ve helped the team navigate the brutal schedule and inevitable pass-protection problems, but Todd Bowles decided to start the clock on Darnold. The Jets’ coach has no track record with quarterback decisions — this was the first time in four years he had more than one viable option — but he evidently believes Darnold is a wise-beyond-his-years rookie who can handle the grind.
Let me say this about Darnold: Of all the rookies who have passed through this quarterback-deprived franchise, Darnold has more upside than any I’ve covered –and I go all the way back to strong-armed tease Browning Nagle in 1992. Ah, but the preseason can be deceiving. He played only two-plus quarters against starting defenses, neither of which created a game plan designed to stop him. That’s about to change; he’s now a marked man.
Let’s also remember Darnold is stepping into a huddle with no Pro Bowl players, which means more pressure on the young man’s shoulders. This isn’t Mark Sanchez walking into a playoff-ready team in 2009; this will be hard quarterbacking.
Remember that when you question why Darnold hasn’t matched Romo’s ridiculous hyperbole.