Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter
In his first ever meeting with Tom Brady, Jets rookie Sam Darnold was less effective than he's been over the past few weeks. However, in tough circumstances, his performance in New England was nothing to be ashamed of, despite the fact the Jets were blown out by 35 points.
Let's look at some specific examples before we draw conclusions:
1st quarter, 4:05. Jets trailing 7-0. 2nd-and-10 at the Jets' 39-yard line.
On this play, the Jets are in 11 personnel and Darnold fakes the hand-off to Elijah McGuire who runs a route.
Tight end Chris Herndon stays in to pass protect and gets beaten around the edge as New England rushes five, including safety Patrick Chung. This opens up the possibility of Darnold taking off up the middle for a big gain. He instantly recognizes that the Patriots are in man coverage, as their inside linebackers turn their back to the play.
This was an excellent, decisive read by Darnold and something we've not seen that often from him all season. While he clearly possesses the athleticism to make this kind of play more often, Darnold - to his credit - will often keep his head up in these situations and find an open receiver.
The only criticism here is that he exposed himself to a hit in the open field, with the pursuing defensive lineman also falling on him at the end of the play. This is something the Jets can't afford Darnold to do too often, but he has generally been sensible about when to slide. On this occasion, not sliding enabled him to pick up some extra yardage - the 28-yard run was twice as long as his previous best this season. He just needs to be selective about when and how often he takes that kind of chance.
2nd quarter, 7:55. Jets trailing 21-3. 3rd-and-9 at the Jets' 49-yard line.
This was probably Darnold's best throw of the day on Sunday. The Jets are operating out of 11 personnel again here, this time with all three receivers on the right and two receivers stacked in the slot. One of those, rookie Deontay Burnett, runs a long out pattern and Darnold drops the pass in perfectly over the defensive back's head.
Darnold has been proving all season that he can "make all the throws" and the long out is considered by many to be one that not all NFL quarterbacks can handle. With a clean pocket, he's able to step up and deliver a tight spiral. Crucially, Darnold doesn't bail out of the throw, even though he ends up having to take a hit as he releases it.
3rd quarter, 11:03. Jets trailing 21-3. 3rd-and-10 at the Patriots' 49.
There was one major negative play from Darnold in this game and it came as his fumble was returned for a New England touchdown. Ordinarily, you'd prefer to see Darnold eat the ball or throw it away in this situation, but with the Jets trailing heavily and facing a 3rd-and-10, it's difficult to blame him too much for trying to make a play.
With the Jets operating out of a four-wide set, New England rushed four against five, but Darnold immediately sensed the interior pressure as center Jonotthan Harrison was driven off his spot. However, as he looked to extend the play by rolling out, right tackle Brent Qvale's man span off his block so Darnold instead had to try and step up. With the walls closing in on him, the ball was knocked away from Darnold just as he was about to try and get his throw off.
As a draft prospect, ball security was a major concern for Darnold, but other than this play, he didn't lose a fumble in a tackle all season. His other four fumbles came on dropped snaps or handoff exchanges. To make such a dramatic improvement almost overnight bodes well for his chances of improving his other weaknesses during this offseason.
With no running game to speak of, an offensive line that was overmatched in pass protection and a patchwork receiving corps, Darnold ended up with just 167 passing yards. However, while the Jets only scored three points, Darnold also drove them down inside the 10-yard line twice only for the Jets to turn the ball over on downs. He completed over 50 percent of his passes despite a few drops and some questionable no-calls in the secondary and didn't throw an interception for the third straight game.
While he was a little erratic to start out this game, Darnold settled down well and, although he wasn't as good as he was in the past few games, his development definitely ended the season on an upwards trajectory.
We'll have an in-depth look back at his entire rookie season soon.