After leading the come-from-behind victory in Buffalo and then pushing the Texans to the final gun, the new and improved Sam Darnold is set to face the Packers' ninth-ranked passing defense Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Quietly the rookie has helped the Green & White to their best third-down conversion percentages in Weeks 14 and 15, converting 46% (6-of-13) and then 52.9% (9-of-17) against the Bills and the Texans respectively. Since his return to action, Darnold has registered a 106.3 passer rating on third and fourth downs, the fourth best mark in the league among qualified passers.
"You've seen a lot of growth. You've seen him get more and more comfortable each day, each practice, each game with just the NFL as a whole and running an NFL offense," said OL Jonotthan Harrison of Darnold. "It's just very comforting to see the growth and he is just exuding that much more confidence in the huddle."
A-Rod Intends to Lead
Aaron Rodgers was a full participant at practice Wednesday and interim Packers coach Joe Philbin said the superstar signal caller will get the start if he is healthy. Rodgers, who suffered a groin injury against the Bears and limped around during the Pack's 24-17 loss to Chicago, has no interest in watching backup DeShone Kizer finish the 2018 campaign.
"I think it's a lot about leadership," Rodgers said. "If I want to be listened to and followed and looked up to, how could I stand here and say that these games that don't matter for playoffs, I'm going to cash it in? That's just not the way I lead, and I'm super competitive, and I want to be out there with the guys, and I look forward to being out there."
The Jets saw Kizer last season in Cleveland. During the Green & White's 17-14 triumph in Week 5, Kizer was benched at halftime after being charged with two red zone turnovers and going 8-of-17 for 87 yards.
In May, the Browns traded Kizer to the Packers. He has been a spectator for most of his season, throwing just seven passes as relief behind A-Rod.
"This is a very unique experience for a young quarterback to go out and start 15 games and play with live bullets and then to kind of take a step back and learn from one of the great ones," said the second-year passer.
Rodgers is so good that his down year has him connecting on 61.8% of his throws for 3,974 yards with 23 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. The 6'2", 225-pounder, who is 35-years-old and now in his 14th pro season, has an admirer in the 21-year-old Darnold.
"During the offseason I look at Aaron all the time, first of all just to watch some of the cool throws that he is able to make," Darnold said this week. "He really is the most talented person I've ever seen the way he is able to get rid of the ball and throw the football. Just from that aspect it's fun as a quarterback knowing how hard the position is and knowing how hard it is to play, it's really cool to be able to watch someone really make it look so easy. But at the same time, talking about Green Bay's defense, I know we've got our hands full this week and we are really excited about the opportunity."
The injuries have mounted along the Jets offensive line, but the big uglies continue to battle. Spencer Long dealt with a finger injury and James Carpenter headed to injured reserve with a shoulder ailment, so it's been Harrison at center and Long at left guard the past two contests. Right tackle Brandon Shell had to be carted off the field after suffering a knee injury against the Texans and was relieved by Brent Qvale.
"Any loss is a tough loss for sure, but Coach (Rick Dennison) has done a great job here of preparing everybody as a starter," Harrison said. "And we have a good batch of offensive linemen who all know that even if you're not on the field, your number can be called anytime and you have to be ready."
Best Images from Wednesday's Outdoor Practice During Week 16
With a loss against the Jets, the Packers would finish the 2018 season with a winless road record at 0-8. The last time Green Bay dropped every game on the road in a season was 1958 as that club went 1-10-1 overall and 0-6 away from home. But while some people are questioning whether the Packers will pack in it, Philbin has his veterans all taking a professional approach.
"You have to live in the moment," said left tackle David Bakhtiari. "You grow each day, you grow each play. You don't plan for the future. You let the future unfold itself. You turn one page at a time and make sure you write the story on each page. "