The theme for the final four games of Sam Darnold’s first season should be obvious: Just let it rip, kid.
The Jets rookie quarterback returns against the Bills with nothing to lose after a month-long hibernation due to a strained foot. He should have a clear head in the final four games of what has been an uneven first foray into the big-boys club.
“I just want him to make the best decision for him,” veteran wide receiver and locker-room neighbor Jermaine Kearse told the Daily News. “Whatever he feels confident in, just do it. So, if he feels confident in just letting it rip, then let it rip. He just needs to continue to just build himself as a player and build his confidence as a quarterback to be able to gain all that experience and apply it to improve.”
Failure can be good, mistakes can be beneficial and every play is a lesson. Darnold should treat the final month as a training ground to test his limits.
“Might as well,” left tackle Kelvin Beachum said.
Darnold will invariably make more errors, but perspective is required.
“You don’t beat yourself up about it,” Josh McCown told the News about the rookie’s mistakes. “You go, ‘I can benefit from this, because I’m going to learn.’ That’s the key. What’s been really good with Sam is that a lot of times it’s not the same thing twice. He gets that one and moves on. He’s gaining knowledge every play. I think that’s powerful.”
Failure, frankly, should embolden him. Darnold’s confidence might take a momentary hit, but he has a strong enough constitution to overcome fleeting moments of doubt.
Although he would have been better served never getting hurt, there were benefits from his view on the sideline in recent weeks.
“There’s nothing like game experience, nothing like getting out there and playing and experiencing those reps live,” Darnold said. “But at the same time… Watching (McCown) go about practice and walk-through… it’s amazing. It’s amazing to watch him go through his daily process and what he does every single day to get ready for the game. It’s something that I observed and just kind of another thing that I admire about Josh. He prepares so hard. I definitely took some notes of what he was doing.”
Share quote & link
The time away from playing gave Darnold, who was thrown into the cauldron from Day One, the chance to re-set his body and mind and take personal inventory of his early NFL experience.
“He didn’t really get to observe anything or see how an older guy does it,” Kearse said. “That’s the first thing I told him. Yeah, I know you’re sitting down. I know it’s unfortunate, but try to find the positives in it. Being able to watch someone who’s been in the league for a while and see what you can learn. It was a good chance for him to step back and see what he likes, what he can do better and what he can discard things from what he’s been doing. It’s just trying to find ways to better himself, so when he comes back, he can apply it and build from that.”
Growing pains were inevitable. So, there’s a danger in zooming in right now. Keep the lens pulled back so that the full landscape remains in the frame.
Darnold has been far from a statistical giant (11 TDs, 14 INTs, 68.3 rating, 55 completion percentage), but this won’t be a lost season for the franchise or him. It might prove to be the most fruitful season for the Jets since they last went to the playoffs.
The Season of Sam centered on developing the most important player in the organization. Although Darnold will almost certainly be working with a new coaching staff in 2019, there’s still plenty to gain by grasping the ins-and-outs of each weekly game plan.
“The best thing is exposing him to game-planning to win the game,” McCown said. “If that involves exposing him to everything or if that involves playing it close to the vest – whatever those things are that’s necessary to win a game – I think that’s the most important thing. Because every week you have to go in with the mindset, ‘As a team, how are we going to win this football game?’ As a quarterback, how am I going to win this football game? What are the things that need to be done?’ That’s how you have to go about it. Because the ultimate goal is to win football games.”
Darnold needs to go through that process for the final four times this season so that he can have a reservoir of knowledge and experiences that will benefit him in his second season no matter which system he’s running. The exposure to defenses alone is invaluable.
Every snap will ultimately build his confidence. He shouldn’t be afraid to take chances along the way.
“If he’s confident in stretching it and letting it go, then do it,” Kearse said. “When you start feeling confident in certain things, it does stretch your boundaries. The more confident you feel, the more you start to press out of your comfort zone.”
Darnold remains as cool as ever. Ask him about letting it rip and he won’t flinch: I’m just going to go out there and play football.