It's not unusual for a rookie quarterback, and it's not an indication of what his long-term future will be, but there's no doubt Sam Darnold has regressed the last three weeks.
And Sunday might have been his worst performance yet, one so bad that maybe it's time he takes a temporary seat on the bench.
In what amounted to a must-win game, against a very beatable defense, Darnold was just awful. He threw four interceptions in a 13-6 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Over the past three games, he's completed just 47.2 percent of his passes for 588 yards with two touchdowns and seven interceptions.
That's a passer rating of 43.3.
He's been so bad that if the Jets were really interested in winning this season, they would've benched him for veteran Josh McCown. Especially on Sunday against the Dolphins, in a 6-3 game before Darnold threw a pick-six to Dolphins linebacker Jerome Baker, a switch to McCown made perfect sense. He could've settled down a stagnant offense. Just some better decisions would've helped them move the ball.
Of course, everyone knows the Jets aren't about winning this season; they're about winning in 2019. That means the only goal now is to get Darnold as much experience as they can.
Unfortunately, Darnold (21 of 39, 229 yards, 0 TDs and those four interceptions) is having a bad experience right now. He looks lost. He looks like he's got happy feet behind a shaky offensive line. He looks like he's staring down receivers. And most damning of all, he seems like he's not seeing defenders who are obviously standing in his way.
One of the most glaring examples of that came on his first interception, when it seems unfathomable that he couldn't see Kiko Alonso backing into the play and right in front of his intended receiver. The worst, though, came in the fourth quarter, when he threw off balance toward TE Eric Tomlinson, who was so well-covered by Baker it's a wonder Darnold could see Tomlinson at all.
Again, it's not unusual. But the 21-year-old Darnold looks like a kid with a spinning head, who needs a chance to catch his breath before the schedule gets really difficult after Thanksgiving. The Jets should consider starting McCown next Sunday against the awful Buffalo Bills, to try and steal an easy win and give Darnold a chance to pause and relax.
Then maybe he can regain some of his momentum for a stretch run that includes two games against the Packers and games against the Texans and the Packers. Because if he's this lost now, imagine how bad things will look to him then.
- There's pretty much no way around this now: The rest of the season is going to be a referendum on Todd Bowles -- both on his coaching and whether he is the right one to lead Darnold and this young team into the future. The Jets would probably need to go 6-1 the rest of the way to make the playoffs and, let's face it, that's not going to happen. Do they lay down and let this season spiral out of control again? Or do they fight and show some improvement? Which way they go may determine whether Bowles is back for 2019.
- Speaking of players who need to be benched: Center Spencer Long is having a ton of problems with shotgun snaps due to his dislocated middle finger and has been for weeks. It was such a huge issue in this game it's hard to fathom why Bowles didn't pull him out and put in Jonotthan Harrison. And if he wasn't going to do that, why wouldn't offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates just call more plays from under center? Things were hard enough for Darnold, but being forced to reach high, low and wide for half his snaps threw him off even more, especially in key moments. The Jets need players who can help their rookie quarterback out, not make things worse.
- Jermaine Kearse was supposed to be a reliable veteran receiver for Darnold, but he's not playing like one. He caught just three passes for 20 yards, had a big drop and looks slow. His worst, though, came late in the fourth quarter when he caught a pass on the sideline and, with no defender anywhere near him, stepped out of bounds as he made the catch. A totally lazy play.
- Bates' play-calling hasn't been great for weeks. He gets a little bit of a pass because the Jets are so short-handed on offense, but his use of WR Robby Anderson really is strange. He sent him on crossing routes and even ran him on an end-around where he needs to have moves to shake the defense. That's not Anderson's specialty. His specialty is straight-ahead speed, but that wasn't utilized in this game at all.
- Hard to fault the Jets defense on this. It might have been nice if they forced a turnover or two, but they held the Dolphins to 168 yards and six points. That should be good enough for a win.
- This was another game where DE Leonard Williams' infamous "hidden production" was more evident than his actual production. He was a disruptive force at the line of scrimmage, pushing the pocket and disrupting running lanes. It didn't add up to much in the score sheet, but he made his presence felt. The Jets still need him to be a little more dominant as a pass rusher, though.
- The Jets got two sacks from LB Jordan Jenkins, which was nice to see. It helped the Jets that Dolphins RT Ja'Wuan James went down with an injured knee early in the game. The Jets had their way with his backup, Zach Sterup.
- Safety Jamal Adams is a terrific blitzer, and twice he got in so fast he was able to deflect a Brock Osweiler pass from up close. Good thing, too. Both times, Osweiler was throwing to wide-open receivers, including one time when RB Kenyon Drake would've walked in for a touchdown. The Jets need to cover better when they send Adams after the quarterback.