Sam Darnold has a 93.5 QB rating and hasn't committed a turnover in the Jets' two wins. He also hasn't put up gaudy numbers. He's thrown for a combined 382 yards and 3 TDs while completing 60.3% of his passes. Entering the season finale, he hasn't thrown for more than 230 yards in a single game -- Week 4 vs. DEN -- but Darnold's goal is to close out the season on a high note.
"I can't press," he said. "I think whatever for me, it's been working the last two games. Just take whatever the defense gives me and whether that's a shot, an underneath throw, just take what they give me. If it's not there, throw it away or if I can run, find a running lane to do that and get a first down. I'm going to do everything that I can to help this team win and that's really my only thing I'm focused on."
The Patriots have not been kind to Darnold in two games (0-2). He's completed 45% of his passes, has thrown 4 INTs and 0 TDs. The Green & White has not won in New England in the regular season since 2008. Even though the Pats (6-9) are not the team the NFL is used to, their pass defense ranks No. 7 in the NFL (221.2 yds/g).
"It's always a challenge going against this defense," Darnold said. "Not only the talent, but the scheme as well. So, we're preparing and we have a really good plan right now. Again, just looking to finish strong here with another good practice and just going to continue to watch tape and prepare the way that we always do. It's going to be an awesome challenge and we're all looking forward to the opportunity."
The defense has been vastly improved the past two games after losing 40-3 to the Seahawks, which was interim defensive coordinator Frank Bush's first game calling plays. In Weeks 15-16, it ranks top-10 in the NFL in points allowed per game (18), yards allowed per game (301), rush yards allowed per game (79.5), third-down percentage (30.8%), sacks (7) and takeaways (3).
"We changed a couple of things," Bush said. "Honestly, the guys have bought into what we're selling right now. We've kind of pared things down and given them a chance to play a little bit smarter and a little bit faster. They've bought into it. We really try to focus on the kids and what they do and do best. If you have kids doing what they do best, they'll do it a little bit faster and more aggressively."
The Patriots' offense has struggled its past three games -- it's scored one touchdown and averaged 241.3 yds/g. New England has the NFL's No. 5 rushing offense (145.3 yds/g) and ran for 159 yards (433 total) in these teams' first meeting. Both Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham played last week against the Bills and Head Coach Bill Belichick has not publicly announced who his starting QB will be in the season finale.
"Either one of the quarterbacks can turn around and hand the ball off," Bush said. "They have two good running backs and their run game has been really good this year. We've prepared to really handle the run-game stuff and we'll deal with the quarterback situation as it comes. … We prepare for them both, but our focus has been stopping what they do best and that's the run game."
See the Top Images from Practice Leading Up to Week 17
CB Bless Austin (non-COVID illness) will be questionable, along with CB Javelin Guidry (knee) and WR Jeff Smith (shoulder). RG Greg Van Roten, who was designated to return to practice earlier this week (foot), could be activated for the season finale.
"We'll see how today goes," Head Coach Adam Gase said on Friday. "It's definitely a possibility."
Speaking about playing young players such as rookie OL Cameron Clark, Gase said: "In a game like this, I have done that in past to see the reaction and how a guy plays against a defense like this where the scheme is not easy to deal with. You don't want to put anybody in harm's way, especially the quarterback. That's the last thing you want. When you put in a young offensive lineman, you have to feel confident and the last few weeks Cam has been active. In my mind, he should be ready to go. It's always a possibility, but at the same time, we're trying to win a game."