By Lenn Robbins
It has been almost exactly one month since Sam Darnold saw ghosts. One month since the New England Pats, known cheaters, seemingly had 12 men on the field on defense for every play in a 33-0 bashing of the Jets.
Every time Darnold thought he had an open window, it was slammed shut. Every time he thought he had a receiver break free, he was covered. Darnold completed just 11-of-32 passes for 86 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions.
When the mic-up Darnold was overheard saying he was seeing ghosts, Jets Nation went apoplectic. Their second-year quarterback, the third player picked in the 2018 NFL Draft, was a bust, his psyche snapped, they fretted.
Over the last two games, however, Darnold has completed 38-of-60 passes for 523 yards with five touchdowns and just one interception. Not a spirit in sight in wins over the Giants, 34-27, and Redskins, 34-17.
Yet the Jets are not much closer to knowing if Darnold will be their franchise quarterback than they were after the Patriots’ game. The Redskins have the 21st worst defense in the NFL. The Giants are even worse. They’re 31st.
“Towards the end of the game, I was talking more about the interception to the coaches and the other players, so maybe that,” Darnold told reporters about his dialogue Sunday. “But I think for us as an offense, as a whole, it’s just another steppingstone in the right direction, so that’s how we’re going to look at it.”
The one thing we’ve learned, and this might turn out to be paramount, is that Darnold didn’t crack, his psyche wasn’t snapped, his confidence hadn’t been confiscated by the Pats.
In fairness to Darnold, the Patriots defense is great. It made Carson Wentz look pedestrian Sunday night in a 17-10 New England win. Maybe every quarterback, save Lamar Jacks on, sees ghosts when playing the Pats.
Maybe, just maybe, Darnold is on his way to being a franchise QB.
“He knows what he likes; he knows what he doesn’t like,” Jets coach Adam Gase said of Darnold. “He’s not afraid to say it.”
Good to know. The question is, can Darnold, who’s not exactly surrounded by the talent Troy Aikman had with the Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, win a game against a top-tier NFL defense?
Darnold did complete passes to seven different receivers, which suggests he’s seeing more of the field. But we won’t for another month if Darnold has exorcised his demons and is closer to being a franchise QB than he is today.
The Jets play at Baltimore on Dec. 12. The Ravens made Texans’ QB Deshaun Watson look like a scarecrow on Sunday. If Darnold can play as he has these last two weeks, well, that will speak well of his progress.
If not, well, Jets fans are accustomed to seeing all kinds of bizarre occurrences from butt fumbles to Bill Belichick becoming coach for a day. Seeing ghosts is nothing new.