By Jeff Moeller, The New York Extra – thenyextra.com
In his third season, Joe Namath had the Jets on the doorstep, as he led them to eight wins in 1967 and then became the first quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards in a season.
The next season, we all know about “the guarantee” and how that season ended on January Sunday in Miami.
Sam Darnold will enter his third season in 2020 with a different perspective. He already has been anointed the team’s next Namath (or franchise quarterback) and has to endure all of the pressures that surround it.
Both quarterbacks are stark contrasts of each other through their first two years.
Namath was a gunslinger with a big arm, but an underlining propensity to throw interceptions (42 to 37 touchdowns, QB rating around the mid-60s) while Darnold is a gun-slinger in his own right and working to stay in the pocket (36 touchdowns, 28 interceptions, around an 80 quarterback rating).
After he provided the Jets’ fan base with that apparent solution in his rookie season, Darnold’s career took a sudden U-turn last season when he incurred a bout of mononucleosis after an average showing in a 17-16 opening loss to Buffalo.
That incident sparked the recurring thought of the Jets being cursed once again with the promise of a young quarterback.
Would Darnold fall into the same den of mediocrity and failure with the likes of former labeled “franchise” quarterbacks such as Ken O’Brien, Richard Todd, Chad Pennington, and Browning Nagle to name a few?
The Jets’ faithful raised some further doubts when Darnold was skewered by the New England defense in a 33-0 shutout during a mid-October Monday night game in the Meadowlands in which he had a futile line of 11-for-32, 86 yards and four interceptions.
In just his second game back, Darnold claimed he was “seeing ghosts” in the second quarter.
Here we go again, the critics screeched, with another flopped version of a Jets’ savior quarterback.
Yet, there were enough cries to stay patient and stay the course.
Darnold did rebound and finished with an average year of 19 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and 3,024 yards.
More importantly, Darnold took the reins of the team and did his part in a streak in which the Jets went 6-2 in the second half of the season, albeit with a favorable schedule. He did show flashes of his franchise potential when he threw nine touchdowns and just two interceptions, as the Jets won four games in five weeks down the stretch.
Darnold had the roller coaster ride in 2019 and is ready for the high-speed monorail in 2020.
Some of the qualms and trepidations should put to rest. GM Joe Douglas has filled the necessary needs around him, and the Jest will wait to see how it shakes down.
He did receive an endorsement from the lone franchise quarterback.
“Sam can play,” said Namath recently to NBCSN. “He’s growing, he’s going to improve, he’s going to get better, but like most things in life, it’s a team game. He’ll step up. I believe he’s going to get better, but he needs the teammates also, and they’re improving. Douglas has done a great job bringing in some new players.”
To his credit, Darnold is playing with house money this year. His team is expected to be respectable and the playoffs would be a bonus. Those odds may have risen with New England adding Cam Newton.
It will be all about his development and leadership. The Jets again could be on the doorstep coming off a 7-9 season. Darnold must curb his overzealousness to succeed and continue to learn patience instead of forcing some situations.
Forty-three years ago, Namath watched his stock rise and his team take a major step in his third season. The critics raised their eyebrows as well as their respectability for the high-profile “franchise” quarterback.
The profile isn’t as high this time around, but Darnold knows it is his time.