ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13: Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets looks to throw a pass during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Bills Stadium on September 13, 2020 in Orchard Park, New York. Bills beat the Jets 27 to 17.
(Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Mr. Rebound himself, Sam Darnold, looks to turn the page while leading the New York Jets to victory against the San Francisco 49ers.

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FLORHAM PARK, NY—Those who knew him in high school still get out of his way. Shoot a jumper? Get an elbow in the chest. Drive baseline? Get your head knocked off.

Yes, Sam Darnold’s love of basketball is well-known across the NFL, and he had to be one of the ballers throwing elbows and decapitating heads in high school, right?

In any event, his toughness and mental capacity is why Christopher Johnson thinks so highly of him after a down week.

“I have so much confidence in Sam (Darnold),” Johnson said. “He is the best player I know at turning the page … the absolute best. And I think he’ll turn the page on this last game and I think we’ll see an extraordinary Sam.”

Get out of his way; Mr. Rebound is ready to … rebound?

By the time Darnold exited San Clemente High School in San Clemente, CA, he was already standing a stout 6-foot-3. Sure, the hardwood baller could play along the perimeter, dish it and shoot it—helping pave the way to his current quarterback duties—but at that height, the kid could definitely clean up the boards as well.

Perhaps that’s why he’s so quick to bounce back in the eyes of the New York Jets CEO.

No matter the truth, the quarterback who can hit the hardwood on a moment’s notice continues to preach his mantra: one day, one game at a time.

“For me it’s always been a one week at a time mentality and then obviously learn from the game on Monday,” Darnold told reporters after a Thursday practice in Florham Park, NJ. “Then Tuesday, even Monday night, start watching tape of the Niners, and have a couple of great practices (on) Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I think once you start working on another team, it’s easier to move on.”

Coming out so flat against the Buffalo Bills Sunday is only half the battle. Next up is (perhaps) the most dominant four-man pass rush in the NFL, while Darnold’s offensive line continues to get acquainted with one another—a tougher task after experiencing the most unusual and frustrating offseason in NFL history.

“Obviously, they’re really good up front,” Darnold said of the 49ers front seven. “Really, they’re good everywhere, but they get after the quarterback. For me, it’s recognizing coverages … it’s the same thing every week, recognizing pressures, recognizing coverages.”

Recognizing pressures and coverages is the key.

Scream Adam Gase all you want; it won’t change the fact that Darnold put up a dishearting at-the-line-of-scrimmage effort in Orchard Park, NY. Time and again, the kid just could not figure out what Buffalo was throwing at him.

The most glaring example came on the second series against the Bills. Darnold, facing a third-and-9, saw seven at the line of scrimmage but may not have considered to use his trips (3×1) look to his advantage.

If he had just anticipated more dropping defenders to the field-side area (trips side), he could have slid his protection to the right and attacked the trips side down the field for the first down. Instead, he plays the protection straight-up and the safety on the boundary side comes clean to his right side.

Post-snap, Darnold needed to recognize the A-gap-showing linebacker drop to the boundary side. By no means should Chris Hogan on the smoke route be the option if it’s not a clean one-on-one situation. Also, by no means should a smoke even be an option if it’s not an all-out seven-man pressure—not on third-and-9.

Then again, this play represents another potential issue: the lack of weapons.

Though I really can’t see any downgrade in weaponry from a season ago (an upgrade has been made in my eyes), it’s an ongoing topic. Whether or not he’s playing the role of good soldier or truth-teller, Darnold won’t hear of such silly excuses.

“That’s not true at all,” Darnold said to the lack-of-weapons inquiry. “We have really good playmakers. Again, it’s just about me getting the ball in their hands and making sure they can run after the catch.”

Weapons won’t turn a bad or below-average quarterback into a superstar. (An offense line and scheme may do that, but not weapons.) The good quarterbacks can throw guys open and consistently take advantage of defenses pre-snap.

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What star receivers and backs do for a quarterback is serve as that extra cherry on top, helping turn the good quarterback into bonafide stars. And with Jamison Crowder‘s status in serious about for Week 2, everybody involved hopes that sentiment rings true.

Thus far, Darnold’s bounce-back ability has yielded mixed results. In 2018, Darnold’s lowest-rated happened in Miami (31.8). He rebounded with quarterback ratings of 83.7, 100 and 128.4 over the next three games. In Cleveland that very same year, he put up another stinker. Unfortunately, his next game in Jacksonville wasn’t all that great either.

And, of course, everybody knows what transpired after the infamous “Ghost Game” a year ago. Darnold threw three interceptions in Jacksonville and the Jets lost a tough one. (Michael Nania’s three-lowest-graded Darnold games are exactly those three: at Cleveland and at Miami in 2018, and vs. New England in 2019.)

Week 2 vs. San Francisco will write the next chapter in Darnold’s rebound game. Only this time, Mr. Rebound is looking to take control of his professional football career.


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