The New York Jets have long been an organization defined by blunders, chaos, and pain that a sports fan cannot necessarily withstand (and not a year or two, we are talking DECADES of FUTILITY with causes all over the board!) Last night marked the dawn of a new era in New York Jets lore: a future with a franchise QB.
So this begs the immediate question of FACT or FICTION??? As a long suffering Jets fan since 1981, I am going to reserve opinion now other than to take the position of “somewhere in between“. The Super Bowl is still a long way from happening (and I will take an appearance in one in my lifetime for now), but how about a team that is competitive on a weekly basis and truly carries a foundation that can eventually become a legitimate team to reckon with year and and year out. I may be looking for too much; a quick look at my favorite teams (Jets, Knicks, Mets, Rangers) will show a disturbing trend/consistency of ownership least interested or knowledgeable in their respective sports and a horrific inability to hire strong personnel to run the ship. But let’s focus on the NFL and these Jets.
Sam Darnold opened up his NFL career as only a highly touted Jets draft pick could by rolling right and tossing up an ill-advised throw to the left side of the field that was screaming for the outcome of a pick-6. And just like that, 7-0 Lions and “what’s next?”. Clearly, the sentiment surrounding Darnold was on the mark, be it moxie or the “it” factor, whatever you would like to call it. The kid clearly was not crawling into a hole and running away. Darnold performed with savvy and poise that we expect from veterans who have been through the grind and experienced the ups and downs of a career as a professional. He played within the system and game plan, delivering efficiently and leading the team up and down the field with decisive orchestration not seen since the early years of the famed Chad Pennington era. Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates was pushing the right buttons, calling a solid game and keeping the D off balance all night long. I, for one, was so very pleased to watch Gang Green play without the ability to call every play and then raise my hands in despair. They pushed the ball, ran with authority. When they fell behind, they answered. The defense took advantage of the lead and absolutely suffocated the Lions by the time they had completed their run of 31 unanswered second half points.
But let’s get real. Will it be this good every week? Highly unlikely. That said, I will choose to focus on the positives. Why? Because they were evident. The Lions were NOT the worst team in the NFL last year, with a competent D and one of the better QBs under center in Matthew Stafford; sure, they are undergoing transition and they welcomed a new regime led by new head coach and former New England Patriots Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia. They went on the road and answered every time an answer was required. They made key plays when they needed to be made – and they did so in every facet of the game, be it passing, running, defense, special teams. Andre Roberts provided a dimension on the punt return that has been lacking for several years. The return of WR Quincy Enunwa was heartwarming, but also a reminder of the up and coming threat that we saw two years back; and to think, WR Jermaine Kearse missed the game! This team is not full of superstars, but they may have found something special in Sam Darnold – someone who COULD WITHSTAND THE BEAST THAT IS NEW YORK.
My hometown has devoured, eaten, and spit out many a hopeful, but somehow Sam feels different. I am not anointing him the greatest QB in Jets history, not by a landslide. But for one night, the evaluations, the rap sheets, the critiques all rang true – the kid forgot and moved on. In the city that doesn’t sleep, that is about the most important intangible a person can possess. We are all human and will make errors, but how one does in the aftermath is defining. 3-18 is a statistic that remains well ingrained in my mental Rolodex like 108-54 or 1.53 ERA or myriad other positive and negative numbers associated with my favorite NY sports teams. But, again, it just feels different. Darnold played unlike a rookie in any sense after that interception – cool, calm, collected. Maybe the powers that be have finally decided to allow the Jets to have a future now. Darnold to lead the offense, SS Jamal Adams the D (and hopefully DL Leonard Williams and LB Darron Lee and team follow along). I would love to see this team play to a level where retain Todd Bowles, as despite his own questionable coaching decisions from his first season, he also feels like the “right” person to continue to lead this squad.
Jets fans were celebrating like they won the Super Bowl last night; my personal Jets Super Bowl was back in Year 2 of the Rex Ryan era, the victory in New England in the playoffs led by another former USB QB and first round selection in Mark Sanchez, a game after which LB Bart Scott became forever famous for his post-game “Can’t Wait”. The team has the strut (reference the post first interception of his career Adams’ dance), and hopefully it has a life force in Darnold. As long as the Jets fan base remembers that he is still a young 21 and has much to experience to gain, he clearly has set the bar high and I will hope and pray that the future is every bit as bright as it felt last night.
Congrats to Sam Darnold on a fine debut and the team on a stellar Opening Night on National TV – keep growing and improving and become a force in the AFC East. The Patriots have had it way too easy for way too long!