Sam Darnold is back. Aside from one poor decision and throw, the kid had one of his best game as a pro. Darnold looked every bit the part of a franchise quarterback, and THE franchise quarterback, the Jets want him to be. He made plays from the pocket. He made plays rolling out. He made plays off-script. Darnold was masterful. He hit seven different receivers in total, and threw four touchdowns to four different receivers.
Yes, this game was against the Redskins. But the Redskins are still an NFL franchise with players like Ryan Kerrigan, Josh Norman and Landon Collins on their defense. When things have looked as bleak offensively as they have for the Jets through 9 games, you need games like this.
His most impressive drive came right before the half where the Jets got the ball back with 1:19 to go. Darnold hit Le’Veon Bell for 22 yards out of the slot (!) on first down (you read that right; Bell was in the slot). On the next play Darnold rolled left, off-script, and hit Ryan Griffin down the sideline for 45 yards. Next play, he threw a dart in between two defenders for a Ryan Griffin touchdown from 16 yards out. In three plays, he went 83 yards in 43 seconds for a touchdown. He looked like he had command of the offense, and it showed.
This is the Darnold that fans expected. This game was every bit as good as his stat line says it was. And it was just what he, and the Jets, needed.
1. Jamal Adams has been nothing short of spectacular the past two games. After looking as bad as we’ve ever seen him the previous two weeks, he has bounced back nicely for arguably his two best games as a professional. He is, unequivocally, the best defender on the team and is really making fans, and probably Joe Douglas, reconsider that potential offseason trade.Adams leads the team in nearly every statistical defensive category. He is first (or tied for first) on the team in tackles (56), sacks (6), tackles for loss (11), passes defensed (6), forced fumbles (2), fumble recoveries (1), and defensive touchdowns (2). It doesn’t get much more impressive than that.
2. Ryan Griffin has come into his own and is becoming a go-to target for Sam Darnold, especially in the red zone. It really makes you think what could have been if Chris Herndon were healthy.
3. Albeit against the Giants and Redskins, the offensive line and cornerback group have performed much better than in the first eight games. Maybe, and hear me out on this one, they have performed better because players like Ryan Kalil, Trumaine Johnson, and Daryl Roberts were not in the lineup.
4. Neville Hewitt has played well this year, and has filled in nicely with all the injuries at linebacker. He has a low bar to clear to be better than James Burgess, but he has cleared it nonetheless and has been solid when healthy.5. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the Jets defensive line has significantly improved their sack totals without Leonard Williams. I also wonder when Quinnen Williams is going to make an impact. Regardless of those two statements, the Jets defensive line has performed better thanks to guys like Nathan Shepard, Foley Fatukasi, and Kyle Phillips. 16 sacks in three games is a good number.
6. It may be Adam Gase’s play calling, it may be Le’Veon Bell’s patient running style, but even against inferior teams Bell is struggling while Bilal Powell seems to hit the hole hard and find success. It feels mildly concerning.
7. Here are my long-winded thoughts on Christopher Johnson’s comments from last week assuring Adam Gase will be Head Coach through the 2020 season:
a. I understand the desire for continuity, specifically with Sam Darnold. However, refusing to take a holistic look at the big picture after this season is completed is a mistake. Gase may close out strong and potentially prove Johnson right. He also may finish 3-13, alienating players along the way and furthering his terrible track record of injuries. This talent deficient roster is not on him, but the lack of competitiveness in 6 out of 10 games is. Saying that Gase was secure for the remainder of 2019 is understandable. Assuring he is safe through 2020 was dumb. The inability and unwillingness on Johnson’s part to take a look in the mirror and potentially admit a mistake and course correct is bad leadership and poor management.
b. I often say that I don’t understand what goes on inside a team’s locker room or headquarters, because I don’t. However, what I can do, is draw similarities between that and any type of business setting that I, or anyone else, can find themselves in. Running an NFL team is, in essence, running a business. So, I don’t put much stock, or any at all, into the “positive response” from players following the Gase news. I would equate it to the owner of your company coming over to you and saying “Hey, I just promoted Bill over there to VP of Sales. What do you think?” Are you really going to tell the guy who signs your paycheck that you think Bill ill-equipped for the role and the owner is an idiot for promoting him? The answer is no, you’re not. We can’t expect players to do anything different, either.
c. I have not usually been a fan of the playoff mandate. I think it is a questionable motivational business tactic that often backfires. Drawing the same type of business comparison, this would equate to your boss telling you that if you don’t hit your sales target, you’re going to be fired. Now, is it motivating? Sure, but for the wrong reasons. And many people don’t respond well to that type of management. For the past few seasons, I have understood Johnson’s trepidation around putting a playoff or bust mandate in effect. Now, while I don’t believe that Gase should be punished for the shortcomings of his predecessors, I do believe that Johnson needs to take a hard stance in 2020, realizing that it doesn’t matter whose fault the shortcomings of this entire franchise are, but that the organization is in the midst of a 9-year playoff drought and it needs to be turned around. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Christopher Johnson should absolutely have a playoff or bust mandate for Adam Gase in 2020.
8. I think the Jets need to beat the Raiders and show some legitimacy.
9. Jordan Jenkins is turning into a very nice pass rusher.
10. Sam Darnold has played in 20 regular season games thus far in his career. Below is my overly simplistic approach to grading his starts through those 20 games:
a. Bad – NE (2019), @ Mia (2018), @ Cle (2018), Min (2018)
b. Fair – @ Mia (2019), @ Jax (2019), Buf (2019), @ NE (2018), @ Buf (2018), @ Chi (2018), Den (2018), @ Jax (2018), Mia (2018)
c. Good – @ Wash (2019), NYG (2019), Dal (2019), GB (2018), Hou (2018), Ind (2018), @ Det (2018)
4 bad games, 9 fair games, and 7 good games. For a 22-year-old quarterback, and considering the talent around him, this is about as good as one could expect. Let’s have patience. Let’s not panic. Darnold will be good, with the potential to be great.
We just have to maintain hope that he can carry Gase to the finish line with him.