For three hours Sunday, Sam Darnold didn’t have to hear or read about Trevor Lawrence.
For three hours Sunday, Sam Darnold was back quarterbacking the team everyone was certain only three short years ago he would quarterback for the next decade, and part the Green and White Sea, and lead triumphantly out of the desert of despair.
He has learned the hard way that when you play for the Jets, there is no oasis.
This one ended Bills 18, Jets 10.
And as the Jets take another step on what looms as an inexorable march to 0-16, the white noise about Trevor Lawrence will be howling with hurricane force around poor Darnold.
The Jets will win a game if you subscribe to the theory that even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.
In the meantime, for the remainder of this Kotitian season, Darnold will be twisting in the wind, and trying to block out the reality that 0-16 would mean he would be gone with the wind.
(Unless Trevor Lawrence was so alarmed watching Darnold’s offensive line Sunday against the Bills that he might think twice about leaving Clemson. But then there’s Justin Fields, too).
Darnold had a new play-caller (Dowell Loggains) and a new rookie receiver (Denzel Mims) and a rookie running back who can turn the corner (La’Michal Perine), and it helped early.
But Sad Sam was helpless late, when the game was there to be won in the fourth quarter, which is when a franchise turns its lonely eyes to its quarterback to find a way to win, against all odds.
It was one ugly transformation from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde.
“It was just a total offensive thing,” Darnold said.
It was quite offensive.
Darnold (12-for-23, 120 yards, 2 INTs) finished with a 31.0 quarterback rating. He was 10-for-11 for 107 yards at one point, for crying out loud! You do the math.
His offense totaled FOUR yards in the second half.
(Forgive anguished Jets fans if they started screaming FORE whenever Darnold dropped back to pass).
It was as if Adam Gase had reclaimed the play-calling after intermission.
“I think we just gotta adjust to their adjustments,” Darnold said.
Well, no disrespect intended, but the fellas not making adjustments to their adjustments won’t remind anyone of Bill Walsh, Sean Payton or Kyle Shanahan.
Of course it’s more than that. Either Darnold doesn’t see the field — never saw tight end Chris Herndon wide open over the middle once — holds the ball too long, is rattled and discombobulated by the blitz, or makes a poor decision and/or poor throw.
It was Jets 10, Bills 0 and the Tank For Trevor crowd was growing restless. Darnold’s shoulder, which cost him two games, wasn’t a problem. There was a perfectly placed third-and-20 completion to Braxton Berrios between two defenders on the left sideline for 22 yards before a failed fourth-and-1 run at the Buffalo 18 by Perine.
“I felt like we got in a rhythm,” Darnold said. “Besides the late second-quarter turnover that I had, I felt like I played pretty well in that first half.”
Except that the interception by Dane Jackson, called up Saturday from the practice squad no less, turned what could have been a 13-3 lead into a 10-6 lead by halftime.
“Should have moved on in the progression, but tried to force one in there … just didn’t work out for me,” Darnold said.
One fourth-quarter drive had been stymied by an illegal-formation penalty against Mekhi Becton that nullified a 14-yard completion to Herndon, and now Darnold had one last chance with 1:56 and one timeout left from his 25 after Gang Green had forced a sixth Tyler Bass field goal: Sack … personal foul against Micah Hyde for a downfield hit on defenseless Breshad Perriman … holding on George Fant … sack … deflected interception to Jerry Hughes.
“Defense did a good job giving us one last chance for a two-minute drive,” Gase said, “and they didn’t do anything with it.”
Patrick Mahomes and old friend Le’Veon Bell are up next. Everyone is well aware that you can’t beat Mahomes and the Chiefs kicking field goals. Josh Allen and the Bills showed us that you CAN beat Sam Darnold and the Jets kicking field goals.
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