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The Jets are doing it wrong

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NFL: New England Patriots at New York Jets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re looking for somebody to defend Sam Darnold’s performance last night, you came to the wrong place. Last night was a horror show for the second year quarterback. His five turnovers don’t even really tell the whole story. There are turnovers, and there are TURNOVERS. Darnold’s turnovers in the game showed a remarkable amount of recklessness with the ball. A trend like that cannot continue.

If you’re looking for somebody to say people should panic about Darnold after that game, I also can’t help you. Yes, he was made to look foolish in the game. That came at the hands of the greatest coach of the Super Bowl era. Bill Belichick has made many quarterbacks with far bigger resumes look hopeless during his storied career. Darnold is in good company in that club. Acting as though Darnold has zero potential would require conveniently ignoring the fact he was crowed AFC Offensive Player of the Week just a few days ago.

The career arc of a quarterback is long. We all want to jump ahead to the end of the story and declare a player a success or a failure based on their most recent performance. But the career of Sam Darnold is a novel, not a short story. If last week’s game against the Cowboys showed limitless potential, this week’s game showed some of the pitfalls that could prevent him from reaching that potential.

Thinking about the victory over Dallas, something bothered me more and more as last week progressed.

It wasn’t Darnold’s pure brilliance.

Seeing Sam mentioned with those names is special. Again, it shows his ceiling.

What bothered me is how the Jets barely hung on to beat the Cowboys in spite of how effective Sam was (not to mention a number of Dallas miscues/penalties/key injuries).

In a way, it shows the fundamental weakness of the Jets’ roster that they needed a quarterbacking performance that special to squeak out a narrow win.

Sam is 22 years old. He can’t be expected to play at that level every single week. All you have to do is look at that tweet above to see how rare a performance like that is. But this Jets team as presently constructed might need it to win games.

I have cited this article from The Ringer in the past, and I’m going to do it again.

It is easy for a team to let its strength—a good, young quarterback—become a weakness once it assumes that having such a quarterback will solve every problem. Organizations that have the plan but not the quarterback can succeed; coincidentally, that group might include the Colts this season, who have a stacked roster and a new starter in Jacoby Brissett. But teams with a good quarterback and no plan cannot succeed long term. A star quarterback should not be the end of a process, but the beginning, when the team starts its work to build around him. No one wins the Super Bowl because they drafted a good quarterback. They win a Super Bowl because they drafted a quarterback and then figured out what to do next.

Whether the Colts can keep up their level of play and make the Playoffs I can’t tell you, but I will say this. They have a good general manager and a good head coach. Through their first six games, they have weathered the shocking retirement of their franchise quarterback better than anybody could have imagined. That’s the power of having a plan.

Darnold’s performance against the Cowboys was great. Again, it showed his sky high potential, but it can become a hindrance if it fooled you into thinking the Jets were in better shape than they really were.

I’m sure it has been tempting over the last few days to think that if the Jets just found a kicker for Week 1, and Darnold hadn’t gotten mono, this would be a great season.

Maybe things would be better, but we shouldn’t ignore the serious issues with this roster. They were at the root of the Week 1 loss and the three that followed. They almost cost the Jets the Dallas game, and they were readily apparent last night even as Darnold was having a miserable game.

Dan Jeremiah noted them before Darnold’s return last week.

It is worth remembering how poor the Jets’ offensive infrastructure is. This was evident when Darnold was out. There is only one premium offensive weapon, a running back who has been totally neutralized by the team’s lack of investment on the offensive line.

Why does this matter? As The Ringer article noted, the quarterback is a piece of the puzzle, not the entire puzzle.

Only the fortunate teams see their young quarterback perform at the level Sam displayed against the Cowboys.

Every single team sees its young quarterback struggle mightily in some games. Darnold made a comment last night that he was seeing ghosts. The remark went viral, but his point was taken. He just couldn’t see the field at all against an elite defense. The Patriots kept fooling him, and that left him guessing.

The well-built team can prevent games like this from turning into catastrophe by giving the young quarterback something else to lean on when things are down. Maybe it’s a run game. Maybe it’s a sturdy offensive line. Maybe it’s a receiver who can be trusted to win one on one matchups. Maybe it’s a coaching staff capable of adjusting on the fly and giving the quarterback simpler plays to execute. The great teams have more than one of these elements.

It’s pretty clear the Jets don’t have any at this point.

A week ago, we saw the difference inserting a new quarterback can make.

Last night we saw the limits of changing only the quarterback.

Darnold needs to play better. There can be no debate on that issue. If he shows this level of carelessness with the ball with any frequency, it is a major problem.

With that said, the Jets have done a terrible job putting their franchise quarterback in a position to succeed. Hoping the young quarterback fixes all of the problems with a team isn’t a viable organizational strategy.

Just as the quarterback supports the team, he needs the right pieces around him. It is too late to do so in 2019, but there needs to be urgency in the offseason to fix things.