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Jets-Bills Storylines: Adversity Hits QB Sam Darnold

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Sam in a Boot
The Jets started their practice week Wednesday with rookie quarterback Sam Darnold in a boot. Head coach Todd Bowles referred to the passer’s injury as a foot strain and his status is in doubt for Sunday’s matchup with the Bills.

“I want to be out there with the guys,” Darnold said. “Hopefully if I’m able to go out there and play Sunday, I will. If not, I’m just going to treat it as another learning experience. When adversity hits, it’s up to me how to respond.”

Darnold, who was sacked four times and hit on seven occasions in a 13-6 loss to the Dolphins, missed his first workout since training camp. Before his availability was in question, Darnold started the week with a harsh assessment of his own performance. Not pulling any punches after the first four-interception game of his career, the first-year signal caller, who led the Jets to just two field goals and was victimized by a Jerome Baker pick-six, said he played “stupid football” in South Florida. 

The red-headed rifleman, who during the Green & White’s current three-game losing streak has completed 47% of his passes for 588 yards with 2 TDs and 7 INTs, leads the NFL with 14 interceptions. 

On the surface, the Buffalo Bills could have been just the opponent Darnold needed to snap out of a midseason funk. But look past their 2-7 record and four-game losing streak and you will see the Bills have a strong defense. They rank third both in total defense (313.7 Yds/G) and pass defense (212.0 Yds/G) and are tied for 13th in takeaways (13).

“I’m young, I’m eager to get back out on the field with my guys,” Darnold said. “But at the same time, I have to take care of my body first and foremost.”

McCown in the ‘Pen
If Darnold can’t go, the Jets will turn to the consummate professional in Josh McCown. The 39-year-old started a career-high 13 contests last season for the Green & White, setting personal bests in completion percentage (67.3%), passing yards (2,926) and total touchdowns (23). McCown has been a constant fixture alongside Darnold, but he might get the chance to take the rock again against the Bills.

“If that’s the case, you’re torn because a friend and a teammate — it means he can’t go. In that regard, I don’t wish that on anybody,” McCown said. “But at the same time, as a professional, as a backup quarterback, you have to serve your team in that role and go in and play winning football. That’s what’s fun, that’s what you look forward to. That’s why you play this game and go out and compete.”

“Any time you have an injury from a starter, it’s a blow to the team,” added Bowles. “But Josh has been practicing and has been the same guy every day. If he has to play, we’re confident that he can go in and play.”

Wrong Side of HistoryThe Bills will bring an offense to MetLife Stadium on pace to set a franchise record for fewest points in a 16-game season. In a scoring league, Buffalo averages 6.2 points a game. They moved up to draft Josh Allen with the No. 7 overall selection, but the rookie has missed the team’s last three games with an elbow injury. They also have started 35-year-old journeyman Derek Anderson and an overmatched Nathan Peterman, who has seven interceptions and a passer rating of 30.7. Those three quarterbacks have combined for three TD passes and 16 interceptions and the Bills rank 31st in total offense (248.3 Yds/G) and 32nd (151.1 Yds/G) and they lead the NFL in giveaways (22). Allen will get the ball whenever he is ready to go, but the Bills could err on the side of caution with the bye week on the horizon. If not Allen, then Anderson would return to the lineup. But the vet remains in concussion protocol, then the Nathan Peterman experience will be live at the Met.

No Finger Pointing
After holding the Dolphins to no offensive touchdown and just 168 yards and 3-of-16 on third down, the Jets defense was in no way satisfied with its effort. They pointed to a lack of takeaways for a second consecutive game and had no interest in placing the responsibility of an offense mired in a funk.

“We were obviously disappointed with the loss, but we’re not the type of team who is going to point fingers at other guys on the team,” said DL Leonard Williams. “Even though we did good, there were guys saying, ‘We left this play out there or we could have scored on this play.’ Even though we had a great game on defense, we were still looking at what we could have done better.”

Second to One
In terms of third-down defense, only the Minnesota Vikings have been better than the Jets in 2018. The Jets are allowing teams to convert 31.3% of the time and they’ll face a Bills offense that ranks second to last on third down (28.3%). They might get a crack at Peterman, who has thrown 12 interceptions in his first 130 pro pass attempts.

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