Sam Darnold was 8 ¹/₂ minutes into a difficult press conference Thursday when someone asked him about facing the Jaguars defense on Sunday.
“A Jacksonville question!” Darnold said enthusiastically.
It must felt like being handed an umbrella in a downpour. For the first eight minutes, reporters poked and prodded at young Darnold about his worst performance as a pro — a miserable five-turnover night in a 33-0 loss to the Patriots on Monday night.
Darnold handled the questions with such aplomb that it was easy to forget he is just 22 years old. He put the blame on himself.
“That was on me, nobody else,” he said of the Jets’ offensive failings, which is obviously not true.
Even though he moved on from that game mentally Tuesday, he did not duck or dodge any questions or say he’d rather look ahead to Jacksonville. It had to be about as comfortable as a colonoscopy for him to relive the worst night of his professional life.
“I was trying to do too much,” he said. “When I do that, I get myself in trouble.”
This is why it is silly to discount Darnold after his horrid performance Monday night. He is a different cat. We have seen young quarterbacks make very public mistakes here in the past, whether that was Chad Pennington, Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith. On Thursday, Darnold showed his maturity and looked unfazed by what happened Monday night both on the field and on the sideline when ESPN caught him saying he was “seeing ghosts.”
Demaryius Thomas has been with the Jets for only six weeks, but he has been wowed by Darnold’s poise.
“He’s still a young guy,” Thomas said. “They throw a lot at him with these defenses. Sometimes it can be tough. Especially against [Bill] Belichick, everyone I’ve played with has had problems with him. He’s working to get better. He’s working to be great.”
It is easy to forget just how young and inexperienced Darnold is sometimes. He is the second-youngest starting quarterback in the NFL behind only Arizona’s Kyler Murray, who is two months younger than him. He is younger than the Giants’ Daniel Jones by a week. Guys who are considered “young quarterbacks” have him by a few years like Jimmy Garoppolo (six years older), Jacoby Brissett and Carson Wentz (five years) and Dak Prescott (four years).
The NFL is funny these days. Each week seems to bring an overreaction that makes everyone lose any perspective. Last week, people over did it (raising my hand) that Darnold had arrived off of his strong performance against the Cowboys. This week, it feels like some people are ready to give up on Darnold off the Patriots performance, forgetting all about the previous week.
Monday’s game was Darnold’s 16th career start. That means he has now had a full NFL season. It is fair to expect the Samcoaster to have more twists turns, rises and drops this season. He is still a baby for an NFL quarterback and is in his first year in Adam Gase’s system.
Through his first 16 games, what have we learned about Darnold? The statistics show his ups and downs have been just about even with 20 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions. But beyond the statistics, he has shown glimpses of greatness and instincts that can’t be taught. It’s hard to remember that after watching him throw off his back foot all night on ESPN this week, but they are there.
“Once we get everything clicking, it will make things easier for him,” Thomas said. “This is the youngest quarterback I’ve ever seen who has seen so many different looks when it comes to blitzes, fake blitzes, jumping out. It’s been tough in the games he’s played.”
Darnold has played three games this season against the No. 1 defense in the NFL (Patriots), the No. 3 defense (Bills) and the No. 5 defense (Cowboys). The road ahead is not nearly as daunting. The Jaguars defense is ranked 19th. That is followed by games with the Dolphins (30), Giants (28), Redskins (21), Raiders (24), Bengals (32) and the Dolphins again.
We’ll have a much clearer picture of who Darnold is after this stretch.
He answered all the questions in the press conference Thursday. Now, he has to answer all of them on the field, starting Sunday.
For more on the Jets, listen to this episode of the Jets podcast, “Gang’s All Here”: