FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The Jets had no intentions of sitting Sam Darnold, no matter how much he's struggled over the last few weeks. They were going to let him play through his growing pains, to find his own way out, no matter what it did to their season.
Maybe that's the right way to do it. No doubt most NFL quarterbacks would argue that it is.
But given how lost he's looked on the field for the last three weeks, it couldn't hurt for Darnold to watch a little from the sidelines. So maybe this strained foot he suffered will turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
"If I'm not playing there's a lot of things I can learn from a guy like Josh (McCown)," Darnold said this week as the rest of the Jets prepared to face the Buffalo Bills this Sunday. "Obviously, I would like to play. But if I'm not playing, I'll learn a lot from him. He's a great player and I'll go about it that way."
There are a lot of things Darnold can learn from the 39-year-old McCown. Just this week, as receiver Jermaine Kearse noted, there was an uptick in the tempo at practice because of the veteran quarterback's ability to make faster decisions. The hope is that will translate over to game day too.
Who knows what Darnold can gain from watching? Maybe it's just the tempo. Maybe it's the decisions McCown makes, the checks he makes at the line of scrimmage and where he goes with the ball. When a rookie quarterback is on the field, his head can sometimes spin with all the things going on - and that sure looks like what has happened to the 21-year-old Darnold the last three weeks.
Stepping back, taking a deep breath, and listening through the headset while a 16-year veteran takes charge is something that can only help.
"Obviously, I want to be out there with the guys. I want to go out there and play," Darnold said. "If not, I'm just going to treat it as another learning experience. Like I said before, 'When adversity hits, it's up to me on how to respond.' That's all I need to worry about."
Adversity hit Darnold hard the last three games. He's completed just 47.2 percent of his passes for 588 yards with two touchdowns and seven interceptions, for a passer rating of 43.3. The Jets offense managed only 33 total points in the three losses. And it all bottomed out for him in a four-interception nightmare when the Jets lost a must-win game in Miami 13-6.
He called his play "stupid" in that game, and it was a fair and accurate description. On two of his interceptions there was a defender basically standing in front of his receiver and he either didn't see him or threw it anyway. Yes, rookie quarterbacks make bad decisions like that. But they've been coming fast and furious for Darnold over the last few weeks.
Could he play his way out of it? Sure. Even behind a struggling offensive line with a team without many weapons. He's had some very good games with the Jets. He's going to have many, many more.
But there's nothing wrong with hitting the pause button and allowing him to mentally reset. Maybe he'll see something in the way McCown works or the decisions he makes that clicks and helps him for the future.
And if not … well, it's not like the rest is going to hurt.
"Well, obviously no one wants to miss time in his process of growing," McCown said. "But whatever the case is I know he will be a pro about not only getting his body ready to go, but also mentally keeping himself engaged and focused. You don't want anybody to miss, that's really the bottom line."
Ideally, he's right. Darnold would keep playing and getting better every week. But he's been stuck in a downward spiral for a little too long now. It's a good thing that he has to take a break and see if someone else can show him the way out.