Before mononucleosis called an audible on Jets quarterback Sam Darnold’s sophomore season, he was on the threshold of something that has eluded him – stability. Going back to his time at USC, this season, he is playing under his third head coach and with a third offense in three years.
There was a sense since before training camp that he and New York’s new head coach Adam Gase were on the same page. That was evidenced during Sunday’s 24-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys when Darnold, in only his second game of the year and the first since the season-opener five weeks ago, completed 23 of 32 passes for 338 yards and two touchdowns with an interception.
“Talking to him outside the lines and understanding what he’s thinking when he’s calling a play, he’s very blunt with how to read the play,” Darnold said of Gase. “When he gives me the play, sometimes I’ll have time left so that he can talk to me and he’ll just kind of give me some tips and reminders. It’s nice to have that guy that you know his intent to call a play and why he’s calling it. But also understanding that we don’t have to make the plays any harder than they have to be.
“There’s definitely a back and forth. Me, understanding his intent to call a play, and then also, him understanding that if it’s not the perfect play, which is going to happen, but if he doesn’t call the perfect play for that situation, hopefully I’m able to make it right. I think that’s kind of how we’re building our relationship.”
Darnold, who passed for 2,865 yards and 17 touchdowns with 15 interceptions in 13 games last season as a rookie, has a fresh chemistry of players on offense this year.
“It’s great to have a bunch of guys to get the ball to. We’re in the NFL. There’s talented guys everywhere on the field. But on offense, we’re stacked now. We’ve got a lot of players that can make plays,” said Darnold, the 22-year-old face of the franchise.
“The worst thing I can do is take a sack or throw a bad ball at a guy’s feet. So, I think it’s just getting it to the guy, getting it to my receivers, running backs, tight ends, whoever it is, really, and letting him go make a play.”
Two-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell, who rushed for his first touchdown as a Jet in the victory over Dallas, is one who is being looked upon to make plays. That should come more readily now that Darnold’s back on the field and Bell doesn’t find himself as the main concern of opposing defensive coordinators.
“You don’t really realize it when you’re watching him, especially when he was with Pittsburgh, but I didn’t realize how big he was. He’s a really big running back,” Darnold said. “Guys don’t want to tackle him. And he’s fast and elusive. So, you combine all those things together and he’s a threat out of the backfield, for sure. Catching the ball and running it. Le’Veon’s a smart guy. The more that we can communicate with each other and being on the same page protection-wise, the better off we’ll be.”
Jamison Crowder is another one who is being looked on to make plays. Through the first five games, the first-year Jet and fifth-year veteran wide receiver and Bell co-lead New York with 28 receptions. Crowder for 272 yards, Bell for 169.
“Jamison’s such a good player. He’s just so instinctual, which I feel I am, as well,” Darnold said. “He goes out there and he can feel stuff happening before it even happens. Especially with linebackers because he’s mostly on the inside (slot). He can really feel linebackers, how they’re pushing. He’s been helping me a ton understanding that as a vet.
“Jamison’s a workhorse. He’s such a good competitor. He’s really good for this team and for this offense. He might not think it, he might not know it, but he leads by example. He might be nicked up, nicks and bruises, but he comes out here to work every single day, and guys thrive off of that when they see him. They really thrive off that energy.”