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Viewpoint Darnold expectations require perspective, patience

September 17, 2018

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — This one, the most anticipated Jets home opener in years, started nearly as badly for Sam Darnold as his career debut in Detroit. Dolphins safety T.J. McDonald baited Darnold into forcing a pass to Quincy Enunwa on a quick slant.

McDonald jumped the route for an interception. “Didn’t see him,” Darnold would say. Three plays later, Darnold would see Miami take an early 7-0 lead.

If social media may be used as a barometer, Jets fans, giddy after Darnold and their star-crossed team had set a franchise record 48 points on the road, immediately divided into two camps:

“Oh, no! It’s déjà Sanchez-Smith all over again.

Or, “Good! Sam needs to throw a pick before he gets hot.”

Remember, this is New York. Jets fans don’t do shades of gray.

Darnold, the No. 3 pick in the NFL Draft and the No. 1 hope of New York sports, began his career last week on Monday Night Football with a doozy. On his first play from scrimmage, Darnold’s pass for Bilal Powell was picked off and returned 37 yards for a touchdown by the Lions’ Quandre Diggs.

The kid didn’t rattle. The kid pulled it together. Darnold finished 16 of 21 for 198 yards and a pair of touchdown passes. The Jets scorched the Lions. And, well, you knew what was coming next. Screaming expectations.

The headline in the Tuesday New York Post blared, “INSAMITY!”

The Daily News refused to be outdone. On Wednesday, there was Darnold. There was Broadway. There was the headline, “B’WAY SAM!”

Jets coach Todd Bowles tried to tap the brakes.

“To sit here and say whether he’s great or whether he’s trash or whether he’s anything else, it’s way too early for that,” Bowles said mid-week. “We won one game, so I can tell you after about 100 more of them if we have (a great franchise quarterback) or not.”

Good luck stopping that tabloid train, Todd.

By game day, well, it had gone totally hysterical or historical or something.

On Sunday, the Daily News had Darnold in a green and white colonial outfit. “SAMILTON” was the headline. The message was that after rave reviews on the road, Darnold and the Jets were bringing their hit show to the big stage. Samilton. Hamilton. Get it? Samilton was must see.

Before we get carried away after the Jets’ 20-12 loss and point out that it’s 5.6 miles from MetLife Stadium to the spot where Alexander Hamilton lost his Weehawken duel to Aaron Burr. Before we get carried away and point out that it’s 879 miles from MetLife to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta where the Next Joe Willie Namath will lead the Jets into the Super Bowl … let’s just agree it’s 459 miles to Cleveland.

That’s where the Jets play Thursday against the Browns. Yes, one game at a time.

The kid’s a rookie.

The kid has a ton of talent.

The talented kid played like a rookie in this one.

“I’m not saying he played a great game,” Bowles said. “I’m not saying he played a bad game. You want to take care of the football obviously. That’s important whether you’re young or old.”

Darnold’s final numbers looked fine: 25-for-41 for 334 yards and a touchdown pass. He was sacked three times and his offense gained only 42 yards on 19 carries, indicative of problems on the offensive line. There also were unfortunate drops, the most glaring by a wide-open Chris Hernden in the second half for what would have been a 30-yard gain.

Yet Darnold also missed a wide open Enunwa in the back of the end zone and on the next play, with no time outs left in the first half, threw to Hernden in the middle of the field short of the goal line. Time expired. The Jets took nothing but a 20-0 deficit into intermission.

On the Enunwa play: “I knew I had to get the ball out of my hands. I was throwing it away and as I went to chuck it out of bounds, he almost made a great play in the back of the end zone.”

Yes, almost accidental greatness.

And with Hernden: “I knew we didn’t have any timeouts. I thought, ‘Let’s go get a touchdown.’ … I thought he could make a move one-on-one and get in the end zone. But T.J. (McDonald) made a great play on the ball and a great tackle.”

And then there was that second excruciating interception in the third quarter. After Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill fumbled the ball away at his 12, Darnold immediately went for Terrelle Pryor in the back of the end zone. Yes, Xavien Howard made a terrific play to snare the ball and get both feet inbounds, but it looked like Pryor either gave up on the route or had his signals mixed.

“We were on the same page,” Darnold insisted. “I put that on myself. I could have put the ball up a little more, give (Pryor) a chance to go up and snag it with his big body and long arms.”

Ups and downs. All arounds. This is the NFL and Sam Darnold’s a rookie. He hasn’t proven to be a franchise quarterback yet. He is no bust. He is a talented rookie in the most impatient sports town in the world.

There were two penalties that wiped out important Jet sacks. Robby Anderson fumbled away a pass reception and that turned into seven Miami points. On third-and-19 with 3:36 left, the Jets blitzed, nobody picked up Frank Gore out of the backfield and he went 20 yards for a back-breaking first down.

“Inexcusable,” Bowles said.

South Florida South Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde pointed out the Dolphins and Bills each have started 19 quarterbacks in this millennium. The Jets, 15. In short, there’s Tom Brady and there’s the rest of the AFC East. Would really would be inexcusable would be to forget Mark Sanchez was once called The Sanchize and when Smith won his first start in 2013 a Daily News headline screamed, “A STAR IS BORN.”

A little perspective and some patience is in order. The next game is in Cleveland.

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