Rookie Sam Darnold wouldn’t be starting his sixth consecutive game for the Jets this weekend had not GM Mike Maccagnan consummated a blockbuster trade with the Colts on St. Patrick’s Day. More than a month prior to April’s draft, Maccagnan sent his No. 6 overall selection along with two second-round picks (No. 37 and No. 49 overall) in addition to a 2019 second-rounder to Indy in order to move up three slots and obtain the No. 3 overall selection. The Jets wanted a quarterback and the Colts, with their star signal caller on the mend, wanted to stockpile picks.
While the trade will be evaluated for years, this one seems like a win-win for both clubs. Darnold has been steady early, completing 55.7 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and six interceptions. The Colts were confident in Andrew Luck’s health and the 29-year-old has been brilliant while leading a rebuilding team.
Despite playing with a surgically-repaired shoulder, Luck is on pace to throw for 4,771 yards and 38 touchdown passes. With the compensation from the Jets, the Colts went to work on helping Luck up front with the additions of offensive linemen Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame) and Braden Smith (Auburn) with the No. 6 and No. 27 selections. Nelson has received good reviews and Smith actually moved outside to start at tackle against the Patriots. The Horsehoses traded out of the 49th selection, moving back and picking up DE Kemoko Turay (Rutgers) with 52nd selection and gaining a fifth-round pick from the Philadelphia Eagles. Turay has racked up two sacks in his first five pro games.
“You spend a lot of time looking at previous draft compensations or movements or stuff like that,” Maccagnan said more than a month before landing Darnold. “Again, for us going forward, the idea of keeping our one was an important thing for us. The twos this year and the two next year, it’s a price, but we felt good about the one going forward.”
By just being himself, Darnold has already won over the locker room. During the Jets’ 34-16 Week 5 triumph over the Denver Broncos, Darnold had the first three-touchdown day of his career. He made efficient work of his 10 completions by featuring Robby Anderson down the field, hooking up with the burner three times for 123 yards with a pair of scores.
“It’s the same guy. He doesn’t change, he’s not about these ebbs and flows that go along with the NFL season,” said LT Kelvin Beachum of Darnold. “He’s steady. When he comes in the huddle, it’s the same guy. When we’re having lows a couple weeks ago, it’s the same guy. You have to respect that, especially as a young cat. He’s not into social media and following what people have to say. You can tell none of that stuff bothers him. All he cares about is winning, making sure his preparation is on point. He’s following Josh [McCown]. They’re peas in a pod, doing everything together to make sure he’s ready and capable and prepared to come in the game.”
The Colts are the middle game of a three-game homestand and the Jets have the opportunity to win on consecutive weeks for the first time since their three-game streak between Weeks 3 and Weeks 5 last season. That run ended with an uneven 17-14 triumph over the Browns on Oct. 8th, so it’s been a calendar year. Fresh off the thrashing of the Broncos, the Jets have an opened up as a slight favorite over Indy.
"We're trying to find that week after week," said head coach Todd Bowles. "That's the biggest thing after a game. We've got to make sure we carry it over to the next game, and make sure we continue to do things to get better. We've just got to keep our heads down and keep grinding at it."
This is another maturity test for a Jets team that cannot afford to take a step back.
“Wednesday we come back in the building and everybody’s mind should be right on Indianapolis,” Beachum said. “What are we doing this week? What are we doing today to make sure we maximize the game plan? Where is our focus? Then we go on the practice field and our energy level has to be high. It has to be pads cracking on Wednesday. We have to have a very physical and intense practice on Wednesday to set the stage for the week.”
Stepping In, Stepping Up
Luck didn’t have the services of Pro Bowl wideout T.Y. Hilton (hamstring) in Week 5 and tight end Jack Doyle (hip), who had 80 receptions in 2017, has been our for three straight contests. So his favorite targets of late have been third-year wide receiver Chester Rogers, who has tallied eight catches in consecutive outings, and reclamation project Eric Ebron, a former first-round pick of the Lions who had nine receptions against the Patriots for 105 yards with two touchdowns. The Jets could counter minus two regulars in the secondary as Trumaine Johnson is dealing with a quad injury that k sidelined him against the Broncos and Buster Skrine is in concussion protocol. Bowles said the Skrine head injury is concerning because the eighth-year veteran has suffered multiple concussions. Darryl Roberts went outside the numbers last week for the Jets and rookie Parry Nickerson became the defense’s nickel corner.
“I thought he understood everything that was going on. He made some tackles,” Bowles said of Nickerson. “There's some things he could learn from. He gave up a catch or two, which is natural, but from a schematics standpoint, just alignment and understanding certain things, he could be a little better at and he will be.”
Super Bowl III Remembered
The Jets will play the role of favorites Sunday, but they’ll celebrate one of sport’s greatest underdog stories. The Jets were an 18-point underdog to the Colts in Super Bowl III, but the Green & White dominated a 16-7 contest at the Orange Bowl with a punishing run game that produced 142 yards on the ground and a defense that picked off five passes. Joe Namath made the guarantee and the gritty AFL club changed the football landscape forever. The Jets will honor the ’68 championship team by donning all whites and pulling out the gray facemasks. Then at halftime, more than 30 members of the championship team will be saluted at MetLife Stadium.