FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Even Broadway Joe thinks the New York Jets might finally have their next franchise quarterback.
Joe Namath met Sam Darnold on the field at MetLife Stadium before the team’s third preseason game and it provided quite the snapshot.
Past meets future — and, maybe, the present.
“I’ve seen Sam perform tonight,” Namath said during the TV broadcast, “better than I’ve seen any rookies I can remember.”
That’s high praise from the only man to quarterback the Jets to a Super Bowl victory.
And that came 50 seasons ago.
The stunning win over the Colts will be celebrated by the team and its fans this year. It’s also a brutal reminder of how long it has been since the Jets were on top of the football world.
Darnold, they hope, can someday end that drought.
“That’s the goal for everyone,” Darnold said a few weeks after being drafted No. 3 overall. “Anything short of that is a failure and we’re aware of that. Everyone is aware of that. Whatever my role is, I’m going to star in that role to work us toward that Super Bowl.”
The former USC star had a solid summer and impressed the coaching staff with his ability to quickly digest the playbook along with his veteran-like presence and approach.
Darnold was given every chance to win the competition that included Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater, and he didn’t disappoint. Bridgewater was traded to New Orleans on Wednesday.
“He’s able to take the classroom knowledge and all the stuff he’s studied in the classroom and take it right to the field and execute it,” offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said. “We’re throwing a lot of football at him and he’s been able to handle it.”
Darnold could become the 31st quarterback to start a game for the Jets since Namath’s last appearance for the franchise in 1976. That’s a lot of searching and a long time waiting.
There’s big-time hope that Darnold is the answer, and that has the Jets and their fans optimistic about this season — and the future.
“He did everything we’ve asked him to do,” coach Todd Bowles said.
Here are some other things to know as the Jets enter the regular season:
WHOSE LINE IS IT?
While all eyes have been on the quarterbacks, the offensive line will be a major focus — no matter who’s calling the plays in the huddle.
The Jets signed center Spencer Long, who’s an upgrade over Wesley Johnson, but the rest of the line is back. And, it remains to be seen if that’s a good thing.
Inconsistency and injuries made for a shaky season, and depth this year could be an issue. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum dealt with an ankle injury most of the summer, and right guard Brian Winters was in and out of the lineup with soreness.
“They’ve got to work together,” Bowles said of the line. “They have to be healthy, obviously, but I feel good about them when they are healthy.”
One of the priorities for the Jets during the offseason was to find a pass-rushing presence, particularly at outside linebacker.
No one emerged during training camp, and that could be something general manager Mike Maccagnan tries to address as the season goes along.
Leonard Williams is perhaps New York’s best overall player, but even he had only two sacks last season — although he racked up 28 quarterback hits. He needs help, though, and that means the likes of Jordan Jenkins, Josh Martin and Henry Anderson must provide consistent pressure.
An under-the-radar strength might be the Jets’ receiving group, which might lack what some consider a true No. 1 talent but has good playmaking potential.
Robby Anderson had a breakout year in his second season, catching 63 catches for 941 yards and seven TDs while establishing himself as a deep threat. Jermaine Kearse led the Jets with 65 receptions after coming to New York from Seattle. Quincy Enunwa looked solid late in camp as he returned from a neck injury that sidelined him all last season. Terrelle Pryor, still working his way back from two ankle surgeries in the past year, showed flashes this summer of the player who was so promising in Cleveland in 2016.
The Jets’ biggest offseason free-agent addition was cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who signed a five-year, $72.5 million deal. They’re hoping he and Morris Claiborne combine to form one of the NFL’s top cornerback combinations.
Add in the safety tandem of Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, both coming off solid rookie seasons, and New York’s secondary could be a strength after struggling quite a bit the past few years.
“It’s all (on) what we do with it,” Claiborne said. “We have all the pieces. We just have to find a way to put it together and go get some wins.”
PLAYOFFS OR BUST?
The Jets haven’t been to the postseason since the 2010 season — back when Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez were all the buzz.
Yeah, it’s been a while.
But despite the drought, owner Christopher Johnson hasn’t set a playoff mandate for Bowles and Maccagnan. Johnson wants to see continued progression. The feeling is that the franchise is building toward next season, when the team has more than $100 million in cap space and could really make a playoff push.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)