There have been 30 starting quarterbacks that have bridged the 42-year gap between Joe Namath and Sam Darnold. The list is filled with busts, washed-up players, overrated prospects, injury-prone guys, and even a few quarterbacks that gave a reason for hope that they never quite lived up to in the end.
So it's understandable why some people are afraid. History is not on the Jets' side when it comes to their quarterback choices. And there are more than a few Jets fans out there who surely don't want to be fooled again.
But it's OK to relax. It's OK to smile. And it's OK to feel good about the direction of the franchise.
Sam Darnold is the real thing.
Everyone will see that soon enough, now that the Sam Darnold Era officially dawned on Monday afternoon, when Jets coach Todd Bowles finally ended the non-suspense and named the 21-year-old rookie his starting quarterback. That was always the Jets' plan, as long as Darnold learned the playbook, improved, and showed he could handle NFL pressure.
And all summer long, he checked every box and passed every test.
"Sam had a good preseason," Bowles said. "We weren't holding him back. We weren't rushing him at the same time. He still has some things to learn. But his poise in the pocket and the way he grasped the offense right way … he gives us a very good chance to win."
There is a big gap from preseason football to the regular season, of course. When Darnold faces the Detroit Lions next Monday night, their coach, Matt Patricia, won't go easy on him. He'll see more blitzes and pressure than he's faced all summer. He'll see coverages disguised in ways he hasn't even imagined. No defense has really game-planned specifically for him yet. But all that is about to change.
So how can anyone know that Darnold can handle it? Because he has handled everything so far like a seasoned veteran. Nothing has rattled him. Nothing has stopped him from improving. Nothing has made him for a second look panicked or worried or confused, whether it's on the field or off.
"The first thing I noticed with Sam was just his composure and how poised he can be out there," receiver Jermaine Kearse said. "There's never a moment where I've really seen him wide-eyed. If he makes some mistakes, he corrects it and keeps pushing. That's something you like to see out of a quarterback, let alone a rookie quarterback."
"If he makes a mistake, he bounces back. It's not a big deal for him," added veteran Josh McCown, now officially Darnold's backup. "That was just one play for him. He moves on to the next one. That's huge. He's as good as any young guy I've been around at doing that."
That poise and calmness should remind everyone of Eli Manning, since he's been a master of both for much of his career, even on the Super Bowl stage. But back in 2004, when he was a rookie, he was a master of neither. He was lost in his first minicamp, erratic in his first training camp, and shaky - and rattled - when he first started regular-season games.
Darnold has just been different. Better. There's been nothing about his NFL experience that's been too big for him so far. He looks calm in the pocket. He looks quick with his decisions. And when he makes a mistake, his explanation makes it clear that he knows exactly what he did, why he did it, and what he probably should have done.
And he keeps getting better. Kearse recalled how when Darnold first arrived in the spring, he struggled with the wordy play-calling of the Jets' West Coast offense.
"He couldn't spit a play out," Kearse said. "But as he gets more comfortable and confident, you can hear it in the huddle. He's getting the plays out quick. He sees what he sees. He knows what he knows. And so he'll be able to make the calls and the checks to get us in a successful play to be run."
That's huge. And the fact that his teammates and coaches believe in his ability to do that is even bigger. Bowles loves the 39-year-old McCown for the way he played last season, and how he's been such a good mentor for Darnold this summer. McCown was the safer choice to be sure. He certainly would've provided more stability.
But the rookie has an obviously bigger upside. And even Bowles believes Darnold "gives us a very good chance to win" right now.
He does. Sure, there will be bumps along the way. And maybe this Jets team isn't really built to be a playoff contender just yet. But this isn't about this year, no matter what Bowles said. This is about the next 10 years. Maybe the next 15.
And for the first time in what seems like forever, the Jets sure seem to have the quarterback to lead them for all that time, to take them to where only Namath has taken them before.
"It's going to be fun," Darnold said. "It's going to be really fun for a long time here in New York."
He's right. It will be. So relax and enjoy it. Throw out the list of the 30 quarterbacks who have crushed the dreams of the last 42 seasons, and celebrate the fact that the Jets have finally found their man.