With the New York Jets’ next game still more than a week a week away, the timetable for Sam Darnold’s return to action remains unclear. He sat out his third game this season when the Jets blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead and lost to New England on Monday night with backup quarterback Joe Flacco at the reins, and Darnold has been non-committal since about whether his sore right (throwing) shoulder will allow him to play on Nov. 22.
But if the third-year quarterback is healthy enough to start against the Los Angeles Chargers that day, he should play. And he should continue to play for the rest of the season. And not necessarily for the reason you might think.
Flacco (18-for-25, 262 yards, three touchdown passes) actually had performed rather well until a key fourth-quarter interception set the table for the Patriots’ late comeback. Under normal circumstances, one could make the case that perhaps Flacco had earned the right to continue starting, whether or not Darnold’s shoulder heals in time for the Jets’ next game.
But this New York Jets’ season is anything but normal.
That loss saddled the Jets with the first 0-9 start in franchise history and continued the team’s headlong rush toward the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and the likely chance to select Clemson phenom Trevor Lawrence. Thus, even though it could be argued the veteran Flacco gives the Jets a better chance to win games than the still-youthful Darnold, it makes sense to start Darnold for other reasons.
The Jets need to see what Darnold can do with a full complement of healthy wide receivers, something Flacco enjoyed Monday when outside receivers Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims and slot receiver Jamison Crowder all started. It marked the first game in which all three had played together.
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Mims, a rookie, had missed the first six games of the season because of hamstring issues. Crowder had sat out four games because of hamstring and groin injuries, including the previous two. Perriman has missed four games because of a knee injury and a concussion.
Because of all that, it’s probably not a coincidence that Flacco’s three TD passes Monday matched Darnold’s total output in his six games this season. Yes, Darnold is partly to blame for the Jets’ NFL-worst offense, but he hasn’t been able to work with the best talent on the roster. And admittedly, even that talent ranks lower than most teams in the NFL. Not to mention the coaching shortcomings.
Thus, it’s only fair that, if his shoulder responds to treatment leading up to the Chargers game, Darnold should be the starter. He deserves the chance to show what he can do with a full complement of weapons surrounding him.
Not so much because he still can convince the Jets to keep him and not move on to another quarterback if they go winless and secure the No. 1 overall draft pick next spring. Despite general manager Joe Douglas recently saying he believes Darnold still can be New York’s “quarterback of the future,” it would seem a Herculean effort would be needed in the rest of 2020 for the third-year signalcaller to reclaim that destiny.
More likely, the rest of this season could be a chance to Darnold to increase his trade value if he performs well. At this point, the Jets would be selling low if they traded him, but that could change if he plays better. It would benefit not only New York, but Darnold himself, as he may have to move on from the Jets to be able to resurrect his career with a change of scenery.