If you read the headlines on Tuesday morning, Sam Darnold is getting the measurements for his bust in Canton, Ohio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The New York Jets rookie quarterback turned some heads in leading the New York Jets to a Week 1 win over the Detroit Lions.
And while Darnold certainly impressed, it is time to pump the brakes on all the hype and simply let the rookie be a rookie.
Darnold isn’t the second coming of Joe Namath, the quarterback who will forever set the standard for this Jets franchise. He may not even be Chad Pennington or Vinny Testaverde, quarterbacks who enjoyed strong success and equally impressive individual performances with the Jets.
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Right now, he needs to simply be Darnold. Nothing more.
Nothing less. No one else.
This is to say that he needs to be allowed to make mistakes, such as the interception thrown – horribly so if truth be told – on his first NFL pass. And it also means that, as a rookie, he may not always bounce back as he did on the next drive. Darnold needs to be allowed to be a rookie, to make mistakes and sometimes stay mired in them for a quarter or a whole game.
It is the only way he will learn and grow.
He will be naïve. He will make mistakes. And sometimes these mistakes will cost the Jets a game or a two this season.
The potential for the recently turned 21-year old quarterback is immense, but let’s not overreact to his play or performance. He completed 76 percent of his passes (16-for-21) for 198 yards with two touchdowns and that one interception on his first pass of the game. Those are solid numbers, especially having a 116.8 passer rating.
But a little caution and perspective is needed here.
Back in 2009, Mark Sanchez in his NFL debut at the Houston Texans had 272 passing yards; Geno Smith, four years later threw for 258 yards in his first game in the league.
Both quarterbacks had more passing yards than Darnold, a bit of a deep breath perhaps to what Darnold accomplished. Both Sanchez and Smith won their debuts and led the Jets to .500 or better seasons.
And while Darnold threw fewer passers and managed to have a higher completion percentage and more touchdown passes (Sanchez and Smith both threw a touchdown and interception in their first games), this clearly was not a game that rewrote the record books. What it was and it remains a good, solid performance to build on.
There is no shame in that.
Have the Jets found their franchise quarterback? From first blush, it appears that they’ve at least found an awfully strong candidate. Darnold looks the part and sure played the part on Monday night. He made a mistake, but he bounced back and he led his team to a win.
Sanchez and Smith were both anointed, well before their time, thanks to an overeager fan base thrusting unreasonable expectations on the shoulders of rookies. Darnold is now experiencing the same syndrome, a cautionary tale here for this franchise.
He will be hyped and overhyped and when he falls – which is inevitable – the pundits and headlines will decry the outcome. But he will fall, all rookie quarterbacks do at some point, and he needs to be allowed to be a mortal.
The Jets and their fans need to embrace their young quarterback and give him the room to go out there and make mistakes. The future of this franchise isn’t this year, it really is next year and beyond.
The time might come for Darnold to someday be enshrined in this team’s ‘Ring of Honor’ or perhaps someday in Canton. But that time isn’t here, it isn’t now. The time here and now is for him to fall down and learn to pick himself up again.
The present is about letting him be a rookie and to grow into this franchise’s role. He can’t be Namath or Pennington or Testaverde.
He has to be Darnold and no one else.