In the eyes of Jets head coach Adam Gase, New York quarterback Sam Darnold started to truly turn the corner with Nov. 24's 34-3 win over the Oakland Raiders.
By the numbers, Darnold completed 20 of 29 passes (69.0 percent) for 315 yards and two touchdowns to no interceptions while adding four rushes for 16 yards (4.0 average) and one touchdown.
But what Darnold collectively did before the snap caught the attention of Gase when thinking back on the second-year Jets quarterback's development down the stretch.
Adam Gase says the Oakland game was a turning point for Sam Darnold:- Jets Videos (@snyjets) December 26, 2019
"Just some things pre-snap looked really good...Every game after that, you see improvement each week" pic.twitter.com/J6Tr5GtmXe
"I think the Oakland game is one where just some things presnap looked really good," Gase said before Jets practice Thursday. "Just communication wise and I think every game after that ... you see improvement each week.
"Usually, when I see him talking at the line of scrimmage, he's moving fast and he's getting set and there's just a lot of time left on the clock. That's when I feel like he's feeling really good."
From a month-long bout with mononucleosis that kept him off the field for three games to "seeing ghosts" in his second start back on the gridiron, Darnold's sophomore season has been a roller-coaster ride.
As the season closes for the Jets (6-9) Sunday at 1 p.m. against the Buffalo Bills (10-5) from New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York, Darnold does so with momentum on his side.
The Jets have won five of their past seven games behind Darnold, who has completed 140 of 231 passes (60.6 percent) for 1,748 yards and 12 touchdowns to three interceptions while adding two rushing scores.
"I think every practice, every game, every time we get a chance to do meetings where he's learning and he's preparing -- that's a good thing for us," Gase said. "Because he's just building -- he's building that library up. He's building that knowledge up. Every time he takes a snap in a live game, it's more experience for him.
"And he's seeing things that he might've seen earlier in the year and it looks cleaner to him now. It slows down. He knows what to do. He knows what his problems are. He knows what his outs are. I just think, especially, his communication has improved so much.
"We're playing a team in Week 17 compared to Week 1 -- we're watching a lot of that stuff and now he's able to say, 'Hey, we should've done this,' or, 'We should've done this,' and, 'I'd look at it like this.' It's pretty cool to see how far everything's come since then."
The Jets fell 17-16 to the Bills in the Sept. 8 season opener, when the onset of Darnold's mononucleosis crept in. Darnold completed 28 of 41 passes (68.3 percent) for 175 yards and one touchdown before missing the next month.
He returned with his heroic performance in Oct. 13's 24-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys, completing 23 of 32 passes (71.9 percent) for 338 yards and two touchdowns to one interception as the Jets recorded the season's first victory.
Adam Gase on Sam Darnold's growth this season:- Jets Videos (@snyjets) December 26, 2019
"Always just wants to make sure he's doing everything for everybody else and it's not as easy as you think to say 'Hey, I don't like this'...He's done a good job of getting to that point where now he's not afraid to say anything" pic.twitter.com/f3Qt0rlwO8
The following week, in Oct. 21's 33-0 loss to the New England Patriots, Darnold came crashing back down after going 11 of 32 (34.4 percent) for 86 yards and no touchdowns to four interceptions while "seeing ghosts" during the career-worst performance.
But while the Jets are on the outside looking in at the playoffs with the Bills already clinching the first AFC Wild Card spot, Darnold has one more shot to get better -- something Gase has seen unfold over the course of the past month and a half -- against a top-three NFL defense.
"I think the more he understood kind of the system, why we were doing things -- once he felt more comfortable with the base he had, the communication goes way up," Gase said. "It has gone way up. I think each week he gets more (confident) -- 'I'm not afraid to say I don't like this.' Not worried about hurting anybody's feelings. If there's something that he wants to (change) -- 'Hey, how come this isn't in? Can we throw this in?' Just little things like that that don't seem like it would be a big deal.
"But if you're around him, which you guys are the all the time, you know how respectful he is. He's an unbelievable kid and always just wants to make sure he's doing everything for everyone else.
"And it's not as easy as you think to say, 'I don't like this.' And he's done a good job of getting to that point where, now, he's not afraid to say anything."