The New York Jets haven’t been to the playoffs in eight years, but second-year quarterback Sam Darnold has all the tools at his disposal to lead them back to the postseason in 2019.
The last time the Jets tasted postseason football, a former one-year starter from USC was under center, leading them to back-to-back AFC title games. This time around, Sam Darnold will hope to return them to NFL relevance, this time without any butt-fumbles.
Here are three things Darnold must do if he wants to put the Gang Green back in the playoffs this season:
Take care of the football
Sure, it’s simple and somewhat cliche, but it’s true. Darnold has flashes of brilliance as a rookie, but he also turned the ball over too often. He threw 17 touchdown passes (and rushed for another), but tossed 15 interceptions and fumbles five times in 2018.
A nearly-full season of experience, and a full offseason of learning from his rookie mistakes, should have Darnold more prepared to limit his turnovers this season. Fewer turnovers means more sustained drives, which translates to a fresh defense and more points on the board.
If he’s able to do all of that by making better decisions with the football, Darnold can keep pressure off his talented defense, allowing them to make his life easier by giving up fewer points.
Lean on his playmakers
Darnold and the Jets offense return some of the league’s more underrated pass-catchers in Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa and Chris Herndon. But they also added tons of firepower this offseason, namely Le’Veon Bell, arguably the most versatile and dynamic running back in the entire NFL.
Throw in one of the league’s most explosive slot receivers (Jamison Crowder) and another versatile veteran for the backfield (Ty Montgomery), and Darnold should have a truckload of weapons to take full advantage of all season long.
Getting the ball in the hands of his playmakers early and often should make Darnold’s life as easy as possible, and keep the yards and points pouring in this season.
Sure, the defense has experienced leaders like safety Jamal Adams and linebacker C.J. Mosley, but any team wanting to go deep into the NFL playoffs will go as their quarterback goes.
Darnold is capable of being the kind of leader the Jets will need to make a postseason run in 2019, and with his rookie lumps behind him, he should have the kind of comfort level and confidence necessary to make it happen.
Effective leadership takes many forms, and whether Darnold is the rah-rah type, or more of a lead-by-example kind of guy, he needs to take control of his team in whatever way works best for him. They’re ready to follow.