Jets need Sam Darnold to become the quarterback they thought he'd be before it's too late

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Bills swarm Sam Darnold
Bills swarm Sam Darnold

The Jets have gotten some of their offensive weapons back, and now two different coaches have tried calling plays. And still the offense sputters along. It’s even gotten worse.

By now it should be clear that this is their reality: Sam Darnold is the only thing that can save them now.

If the Jets are ever going to get out of this hideous offensive slump that has basically lasted all of Adam Gase’s tenure, Darnold is the one that’s going to have to lead them out. It won’t matter who calls the plays, nor will it matter who plays around him. The only thing that will matter is him.

That, of course, is the way it’s supposed to be. The great quarterbacks, the franchise quarterbacks, find a way to rise above their circumstances. They make plays even when it doesn’t look like plays are there to be made.

Darnold has done that at times during his short career, but he hasn’t done it enough. And he didn’t do it at all in the Jets’ 18-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

He’s got to start doing it soon, or the Jets’ 0-16 nightmare could turn out to be real.

This is what happened to Darnold on Sunday afternoon. Playing for the first time after missing two games with a sprained shoulder, he looked crisp in a short passing attack early on. He completed 10 of his first 11 passes for 107 yards. With nine minutes to go in the second quarter, everything was looking fine.

Then? He was 2-of-13 for 13 yards the rest of the way. The offense he was leading produced just four second-half yards. Four! That’s atrocious and indefensible, no matter what is around him. True franchise quarterbacks just can’t be that bad.

“I really feel like I have to go back and watch the film,” Gase said when asked what went wrong. “When I watched the beginning of the game I felt like he was seeing things well, getting things out quickly, in a great rhythm. I really have to watch the film and see big-picture wise what happened.”

“It was just a total offensive thing,” Darnold explained. “It was not being able to run the ball, and when we did pass it getting too much pressure, and me not being able to step up and make passes. We’ve got to adjust to their adjustments better.”

That explanation may be true, but honestly it’s just white noise. The real truth that matters is that Darnold has to be better because that’s what the Jets need. He is in Year 3 after coming in as the savior of the franchise, the franchise quarterback they had been seeking since the 1970s. They traded up in the draft to get him, took him No. 3 overall in 2018, and have tried to build their future around him for every moment since.

And now time is running out, because if Darnold can’t rise above the mess he’s in then the Jets could be in position to draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence – a generational prospect, according to many scouts, that the Jets would just be crazy to pass up. That would end the Darnold Era before it even felt like it began.

Of course, if the Jets end up with the No. 1 pick, that era deserves to be over, because Darnold will have proven that he’s simply not the quarterback everyone once thought he was. He came in with the arm, the swagger and the obvious talent. He has made so many plays and throws that no Jets quarterback has made in years.

But if he can’t do it consistently by now, that’s alarming. And given a shot at a once-in-a-decade prospect like Lawrence, they’d have to move on.

Whether that happens or not, it’s really all in Darnold’s hands now. He has to know by now that the play caller doesn’t matter. The switch from Gase to offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains led to the Jets’ worst offensive performance of the year – not to mention that patently absurd total of four second-half yards. No, he didn’t get great protection and no he doesn’t have the greatest arsenal of weapons in the league. But Darnold certainly has enough at his disposal to do better than that.

Now he has to do better. There’s no other choice because there’s no help on the way. He’s got his shaky line and he’ll probably never have more than two of the “three dudes” the Jets hoped would be his starting receivers, and the Jets are just not good enough to be a strong running team. They will look to Darnold now to do what franchise quarterbacks are supposed to do – to make those around him better, to turn the Jets into a better team.

He’s got nine games now to prove that he can, otherwise the Jets will have to think about what was once unthinkable. Back in Week 2, Jets CEO Christopher Johnson praised Darnold as “extraordinary” and “sterling” once again made it clear that he believed Darnold was the Jets’ quarterback of the future.

He said “I think we're going to see him turn into that quarterback that we all expected, shortly. I really do.”

That was when the Jets were 0-1. Six weeks, and four games for Darnold, later, he’s still waiting.

The Jets can’t afford to wait much longer to find out if Darnold really is the quarterback of their dreams. He needs to start doing it now, before it’s too late.