Jets excel in coming out party of Sam Darnold
By Steven Blush
The New York Jets locker room was jubilant after this thrilling division road comeback; their first victory since October. Everyone invested in this last-place franchise (4-9) needed this win, and understands the importance of just ending the season on a high note.
The New York Jets are darn lucky to play in the same division as Buffalo. It’s still difficult to tell how this vintage Bills meltdown ever occurred. It’s not just that the Jets flew up to Lake Erie and took care of business, 27-23. We witnessed a glimpse into the future, in what should be remembered as Sam Darnold‘s coming-out party.
The kid hadn’t played a game since badly wrecking his right foot six weeks ago in Miami. Not fully healed, Sam literally stepped into a bad situation, in Buffalo winter weather — to a tough rival looking to punctuate last month’s 41-10 beatdown of Gang Green at MetLife.
Any great QB possesses that innate ability to make the players around them better. Darnold spread the ball around to nine different receivers, and flashed NFL greatness, particularly on his late-game 37-yard sideline touch-pass to Robby Anderson — three plays before Elijah McGuire‘s comeback-winning fourth-down stretch-play TD jaunt with 1:27 remaining. For a rookie QB to excel on the road and stage a 14-point, fourth-quarter comeback is no joke.
The Jets need to approach these final three games as a sort of pre-2019 tryouts. If this offense can consistently generate twenty-plus points per game, these Jets can become immediate playoff contenders next year.
But can Darnold and Anderson develop a chemistry? Is McGuire the future of this rushing attack? Have they found a budding star in NFL-rookie-reception-leading tight end Chris Herndon? And are we finally seeing this O-line begin to gel? Here are five song titles by late punk legend Buzzcocks frontman Pete Shelley that explains what to expect as this 2018 season comes to a merciful close.
Sam Darnold (16-24, 170 yards), in the hardest and coldest game of the USC product’s young career, displayed grit and energy, and professional poise in the pocket.
This game’s markedly improved performance demonstrated that while the roster’s cupboards are relatively bare, there are a few offensive morsels for Darnold to feast upon. The longer the Jets don’t re-sign Quincy Enunwa, the greater chance he ends up in New England. If restricted free agent Robby Anderson excels in these final three games, the Temple kid — despite his baggage and boneheaded behavior — may even deserve a team-friendly two-year deal.
With dazzling KR/WR Andre Roberts, there’s only room for two or three more receivers on this roster. This year’s greatest letdown Jermaine Kearse (1-10) once again went invisible; midseason pickup Rishard Matthews (1-6) should’ve never forced his way off the Titans. Charone Peake continues to be a great special teamer, but his presence means one less available roster spot.
If you were to play GM, which mix of Isaiah Crowell, Elijah McGuire, Trenton Cannon, and injured Bilal Powell would you return? Who are the dynamic playmakers of this bunch moving forward?
Next: 4. Hollow Inside
4. Hollow Inside
An offense is only as strong as its offensive line. For instance, in terms of the rushing game, a solid O-line allows the running backs to have patience going to the hole, and confidence in their acceleration through the hole.
Gang Green’s front controlled the line of scrimmage in Buffalo; zero sacks were allowed. The Jets only generated 248 total yards — but the line did not collapse, like they’ve done for most of 2018.
The unit seemed to congeal after a season-ending injury to veteran left guard James Carpenter, with athletic play-caller Spencer Long healing his hand injury at guard, and Jonotthan Harrison sliding in to snap. Brian Winters got flagged for holding more than once, but at least one time was to protect the QB after others’ botched assignments.
Historically, the Jets have fielded some of the NFL’s weakest-ever tight end corps. But give this front office credit for selecting Chris Herndon and for sticking with Jordan Leggett.
Another week, another devastating penalty away from the action by blocking TE Eric Tomlinson. The UTEP product has the tools to excel. But he’s become such an on-field liability that he can’t even be trusted to run with the special teams, for fear of holding calls or personal fouls.
Give an “A” for effort to offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, but the implementation of Tomlinson as blocking fullback was a fiasco, especially as compared to Dakota Dozier effectively performing the same exact role. When Jets fans hear “83,” it’s often not a positive. The man owes us big time.
Next: 3. Moving Away from the Pulsebeat
3. Moving Away from the Pulsebeat
The Jets defense was constantly “caught off guard,” particularly in the first half. Welcome to the Todd Bowles error.
It’s inexcusable for undisciplined play to still be an issue with this team. These Jets regularly get penalized 100 yards in a game, and this week they got called back 93 (while the bumbling Bills were only flagged for 47). That’s why this head coach is about to lose his job.
Experts continue to extol the legend of Leonard Williams, and it’s true that opposing teams plan all week to neutralize the defensive lineman, often through double/triple-teaming. But during this contest, all one saw was “92” getting stiff-armed by Josh Allen before trotting 20-30 yards downfield, and Leo’s nearly game-changing fourth-quarter roughing the QB penalty.
In fact, every time the Jets showed a blitz package or a man-to-man look, Allen eviscerated ’em with a big run. The Wyoming first-rounder is big and fast and has a cannon arm, reminiscent of a young Nevada grad, Colin Kaepernick. The fellow WAC product is also a real rushing threat; Allen’s 101 yards on the ground made him the first QB in the Super Bowl era with back-to-back 100-yard running games!
Allen has a future in this league, but it ain’t gonna happen overnight. He is a work-in-progress, who can only succeed with oodles of field time. In comparison, Darnold is also great with his feet, but far more polished, and faces much less of a learning curve. All things being equal, you’d much rather be in the Jets’ position.
Next: 2. Strange Thing
2. Strange Thing
The last blog devoted considerable space to this organization’s inability to identify and develop young cornerbacks. When starter Morris Claiborne limped off-field, stand-in Rashard Robinson, looked downright unfamiliar with the basics of pigskin.
Trumaine Johnson‘s game was a tale of two halves. On the Bills’ opening scoring drive, Johnson looked again like the Jets’ worst-ever free agent signing. First, he seemed afraid to get torched yet again by Bills WR Robert Foster, allowing the former practice squadder more cushion than Serta. He followed that with an unwillingness to give up the body, when needed to make a key tackle. But later in the game, he more than redeemed himself with two interceptions.
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Buster Skrine‘s Jets career has been a mixed bag — his blanket coverage undone by devastating penalties. In this game, his red-zone interference call led to a costly gimme Bills TD.
Strong-side linebacker Jordan Jenkins had another decent game. But he’ll likely be hearing from the league after his opening-drive, face-smashing cheap-shot on Josh Allen. Two plays later, Jenkins whiffed on the outside lane, allowing Allen to saunter in for an easy TD.
The LBs were thin, thanks to Darron Lee’s unforgivable season-ending steroid suspension. Hate to say it, but it’s doubtful that the first-rounder Lee could’ve made similar decisive score-stopping plays as free agent signee Kevin Pierre-Louis. Neville Hewitt made a few miscues, but that’s more because he’s a special-teamer exposed in full-time action. But here’s one definite upside we’ve learned so far, Jets fans — Brandon Copeland and Frankie Luvu both have futures on this team (or in this league).
Next: 1. Something's Gone Wrong Again
1. Something’s Gone Wrong Again
Special teams have become one of the few Jets bright spots of 2018; easily their finest unit since the Mike Westhoff days. Gang Green delivered with a solid game of kick coverage in Buffalo.
Placekicker Jason Myers may be this team’s MVP, and he deserved a spot at this year’s Pro Bowl. Punter Lach Edwards laid down one particularly nice 40-plus-yarder inside Buffalo’s five that altered the late-game battle of field position.
Andre Roberts‘ 86-yard kickoff return was one of the most exciting returns in recent Jets history. But the game’s biggest special teams play was field-goal-blocking Henry Anderson’s bodyslam of Buffalo kicker Stephen Hauschka before halftime, which affected the balance of this contest.
In these final three games, the Jets can play a spoiler role. But to end this season on an upside, they have many obstacles to overcome, the least of which being: penalties, miscommunications, breakdowns, poor leadership, unimaginative play-calling, and weak football acumen.
If the Jets win at least one of these difficult games, they’ll finish 2018 with a dismal 5-11 record for the third year in a row. By that barometer, there’s been no improvement whatsoever.