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Next Up for Sam Darnold: Head-to-Head with Kirk Cousins

Jets' Rapidly Growing Rookie QB Takes On Veteran FA Who Got Away to Minnesota


Sam Darnold has been hitting the storylines out of the stadium lately. Two weeks ago he notched his first home win as a pro QB starter and became the first Jets rookie to throw three touchdowns in a home game since Joe Namath in 1965. On Sunday his 80% accuracy equaled the best in a game by a Jets rookie. The results: 69 points of offense (not including Mo Claiborne's interception return vs. Indy) and two victories.

Next theme: The Young QB the Jets Got vs. the Veteran the Jets Didn't Get.

Yet Darnold and the Green & White already seem to be past that. Head coach Todd Bowles today was asked again about how close the Jets came to signing Kirk Cousins, only to lose him to Sunday's opponent, the Minnesota Vikings.

"It all depends on who you ask," Bowles said. "I don't really look back. Either you get him or you don't. We didn't get him and we're happy with Sam and I'm sure they're happy with Kirk."

Darnold wasn't asked one question about Cousins at today's post-practice locker room media scrum. On Monday he said he felt no additional pressure facing him at MetLife Stadium — "not at all" — and said of the way the quarterback dominoes fell this offseason, "Yeah, everything worked out for the best, I think."

It's probably not true but it just seems that the Jets' 21-year-old signalcaller is making such rapid progress that a mere Darnold vs. Cousins storyline isn't that interesting. The big story is what can Sam do next? Cousins even weighed in on Darnold's rapid growth.

"Anytime you can go out there as a rookie and win games, I think that says a lot about you as a player," **Cousins told**. "A lot's been made about how young he is. You factor that in, too, and you feel like it's a really impressive start in this league and I'm sure he's got a lot of great days ahead of him."

Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates spoke highly of Darnold's intangibles with Bruce Arians, the former Arizona HC who worked Sunday's Jets-Indianapolis game in the CBS booth with Greg Gumbel and Trent Green.

"They knew about the player," Arians paraphrased Bates saying in between the Broncos and Colts wins, "but last week he really matured and he took over the huddle. It's his team now. He had total command of the huddle, they felt, for the first time, and he's really now the leader of the whole team."

Darnold takes all the talk in stride, as he has since he arrived at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center

"I just continue to stay within myself and understand how I am as a leader, what I like to do as a leader," he said of his management style with a bunch of players all of whom are older than he is, "but just continue to be myself and talk to the guys one on one, talk to them as a group offensively." He agreed he's improved on being more vocal, but "First and foremost, I've got to make sure I'm tuned in to what I'm doing on the field."

Best Images of the Jets on the Practice Field Wednesday

That includes everything from the big picture to the tiniest details — like tackling, which is what he had to do after throwing his only interception against the Colts, bringing down S Malik Hooker to end his 27-yard return late in the first quarter. Darnold came out of the exchange with a slightly sore throwing elbow, which landed him on the Jets' injury report for the first time this season.

"I felt fine throwing today," he said. "Hopefully I'll try to not throw as many interceptions so I can stay away from making tackles, but obviously when you give the ball to the other team, you've got to get them down, so I did that. But at the same time, I should probably tackle him without using my right arm as much."

If Darnold can figure out a way to master that esoteric pro technique while continuing to break new Green & White ground every outing and maybe even lead his team to its first 3-0 three-game homestand since 1974, no wonder dueling with the biggest free agent name of the offseason seems like no more than a sidebar, at least at midweek.

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