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New York Jets’ Sam Darnold: The classy professional quarterback

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - NOVEMBER 29: Sam Darnold #14 of the New York Jets and Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the Miami Dolphins greet each other after their NFL game at MetLife Stadium on November 29, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

In spite of his 2020 struggles, New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold never fails in the class department when speaking publicly.

FLORHAM PARK, NJSam Darnold is 11-22 as an NFL starting quarterback. At the same time, the kid is undefeated in the class department. When a demoralizing professional career is coupled with a stand-up public persona, the odds are great that the kid in question is the genuine deal as a human.

The oft-injured, struggling New York Jets quarterback took the virtual stage Thursday afternoon while his team’s 0-11 mark in the standings continues to headline a miserable campaign.

“I take full responsibility for the way I’ve played,” Darnold told the media Thursday. “I haven’t played well enough.”

A classy Darnold isn’t anything new. The moment Mike Maccagnan tabbed him as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, the California-raised quarterback hasn’t taken one misstep. It’s been the case despite a clear regression in play.

Similar 2018 and 2019 stats appear on his statistical page, but the drama has only ramped up over the last two seasons.

Name another NFL quarterback to ever come down with a mono diagnosis. Wildly unpredictable events have challenged this kid and his team—not to mention the fact that the headlines happen to hit the kid while playing in the most explosive media market in the world.

Darnold hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since September. His beauty of an escape and throw while on the run to Braxton Berrios in Indianapolis marks the last time that No. 14 tallied points through the air. (He also threw three rough-looking interceptions in that one.)

Of course, not everything can be pinned on Darnold. He was forced to navigate through a rookie season with one of the league’s worst offensive lines. A year later, Darnold had to deal with the very same issue.

Through it all, he’s remained steadfast that he controls his own destiny. His obvious integrity even allowed the world to enter his mind on one particular Monday night: Ghosts had invaded MetLife Stadium.

Although Joe Douglas put an end to the offensive line neglect with his first-ever draft pick as the boss in New Jersey (Mekhi Becton), 2020 has seen injuries beset the Jets’ kid quarterback. Not only has he missed four games—all initially due to the shoulder injury sustained against the Denver Broncos on a Thursday night at MetLife Stadium—but his wide receivers have also missed significant time.

To complicate matters, a certain prospect named Trevor Lawrence has been bandied about in the area for the better part of the last two months. Imagine even a legitimate attempt to avoid the topic in this smartphone-dominant world. It would have to be a world without any technology; back to the days of candles and outhouses, he goes.

If there had ever been a time to let the honesty fly free, this week was it. A clearly frustrated Darnold could have come out with a demoralized look and opened up a bit. He even had a built-in excuse to pass the buck.

Head coach Adam Gase took responsibility for not doing enough for Darnold earlier on Thursday.

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“Yeah, I came here to help him develop his career and we haven’t been able to do that,” Gase said. “That’s why every game is so important, keep trying to help him grow, keep trying to help him develop and see things the way that he needs to see them and play the way I’ve seen him play in certain games.”

The defeatist yet realistic words here signaled a slight change in tone. For the first time since he arrived in early 2019, Gase took a step back and decided to publicly state the visible handwriting on the wall that fans and media members have been staring at for nearly two football seasons.

Gase has previously shouldered the blame for a lot of what’s happened—the Avery Williamson knee injury comes to mind—but rarely has it come when talking about the position he holds nearest and dearest to his livelihood.

Darnold, when presented with the opportunity to jump on the Gase blame train, took Ron Burgundy’s sign-off to heart.

“Again, like I continue to say every single week, we have great people in this organization,” Darnold added. “With that being said, everyone’s going to take blame for certain parts of us not winning games. For me personally, I’ve just got to play better and put the team in the right positions to be able to win games and make it close at the end.”

When asked if Gase shared his culpable sentiment with Darnold, the quarterback didn’t flinch.

“I mean we all talk and obviously, whenever we lose, we all think we can do better,” Darnold said.

Stay classy, New Jersey. This San Clemente, CA kid (who played high school football just 55 minutes away from Burgundy’s San Diego) absolutely has and will. And he’s done so in spite of the many roadblocks standing in his way up this point in his career.

“I’m good,” Darnold said when asked how he’s handling it all. “Obviously, losing sucks, but we’ve just got to continue to come in here every single day and put our best foot forward and go to work.”

There’s no need to tell Sam Darnold to stay classy.

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