By Jeff Moeller, The New York Extra/thenyextra.com
The year was 1967 and it was Joe Namath’s third year in the league. The Jest were being pieced together and many believed they were on the verge of reaching the next level.
Namath responded by being the first quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards and Jets had won eight games on the season. The following season, Namath brought the Super Bowl home.
Fast forward 33 years later to Sam Darnold.
He doesn’t appear to have the stable Namath had around him, but Darnold certainly has felt the pressures. In 27 career starts, Darnold has 11 wins – not necessarily his fault – with 37 touchdowns and 29 interceptions.
It is his Darnold’s third year and possibly a make or break year for the quarterback who has been designated as Namath’s franchise savior successor.
The Jets must decide after this season whether they want to pick up the fifth-year option on his contract, or do they enter into the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes in next year’s draft.
Unlike Namath who had a steady stream of receivers like Don Maynard, George Sauer, and Pete Lammons on his way to the big prize, Darnold’s receiving corps has been riddled with injuries and exits, notably letting one of his favorite targets and longball threat Robbie Anderson walk in free agency.
Jamison Crowder, Darnold’s other favorite look, won’t be in the lineup Sunday afternoon at Met Life when the Jets host San Francisco in a battle of winless opening –week teams.
He’ll need to find Breshad Perriman – billed as Anderson’s replacement – and journeyman Chris Hogan along with tight end Chris Herndon as his prime targets.
Darnold will need to rely on 37-year-old grinder Frank Gore to play ball control against the 49ers without Le’Veon Bell, and he’ll need to work some magic to pull out a victory.
This is his game to lose, and Darnold needs a better effort than last week in Buffalo.
Without his mono-related and “ghosts” situations behind him from last season, Darnold had a clean slate heading into this year.
The ball truly is in Darnold’s hands, and Namath believes he can do it.
“Third year, I have to reflect on my career and my third year and how I felt about things,” said Namath about Darnold recently to Sports Illustrated’s Jets Country. “He’s right on the edge, he’s going to keep improving. Third year, I think he’s ready to do some work. And those guys up front and having Le’Veon Bell and [Frank] Gore at running back.”
Fortunately for Darnold, he has a defense that can take some of the responsibilities off his shoulders. However, Gregg Williams’ touted unit left something overall to be desired in Buffalo.
Darnold can turn the wheel on an already fleeting Jets’ season against a San Francisco team that has as many holes as the Jets right now. He also can steal some thunder in a battle against counterpart Jimmy Garoppolo.
These are times for Darnold. Guide the team to a win Sunday and reset the season. He also can begin to shift the growing opinions from entering the Lawrence derby or finding another successor from a loaded 2021 draft.