(CBSNY) — Apparently Sam Darnold is no longer seeing ghosts. And one day soon he may inspire defenses to see them instead. Since the now infamous shutout at the hands of the dreaded New England Patriots, the New York Jets’ young quarterback has resumed his upward growth trajectory. His performances haven’t always been pretty, and haven’t always resulted in wins; they did, after all, lose to the then-winless Miami Dolphins to drop into the AFC East cellar. But the progress has become increasingly evident.
The Jets, now 4-7, have won three straight games. (They even remain alive for a playoff spot, at least technically.) In those wins over the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders, Darnold has averaged 279 yards passing and completed 65% of his passes. He’s tossed seven touchdown passes and only one interception. Perhaps most importantly, he’s looked comfortable in the pocket and in control of the offense.
The biggest difference between Darnold then and Darnold now may have more to do with the players around him, according to Inside The NFL analyst and Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin. The young QB has impressed these last few weeks because “the whole team has raised their performance.”
The Jets have indeed improved their play on both sides of the ball, up and down the roster. “I love what they’re doing on defense,” Irvin continued. “Just a couple weeks ago, you saw guys like Jamal Adams get all the sacks. They’re taking the ball away now and scoring with it. And that puts him (Sam Darnold) in a good position to win. When the defense gives you short fields, when you see the defense make plays. Now, the young quarterback can go and learn and be a part of the victory.”
And that improvement can be seen on offense as well, where Darnold isn’t expected to carry the team. Le’Veon Bell is stepping up; Demaryius Thomas and Jamison Crowder are making plays. And the offensive line is allowing Darnold a little time and protection.
“What happens is we get these young quarterbacks, and we expect instant success,” says Irvin. “We put them out there and tell them, ‘go win games for us.’ Tom Brady didn’t do that. They went with defense and running the football while he learned how to play the position of quarterback. And now Sam is getting the opportunity to learn how to play the position, because other elements around him are playing well.”
Darnold’s lesson will continue in the coming weeks, which include very winnable games against the Cincinnati Bengals this week and the Miami Dolphins next week. The team ends its season with tougher matchups against the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills. While the first of those three games should officially eliminate them from the playoffs (if they stay alive that long), all three will serve as a reasonable test of their progress.
Are the Jets headed in the right direction? Can we expect more from them next season? Maybe we’ll have answers going into the offseason.
Then again, these are the Jets. When has it ever been that simple?
You can get more NFL insights from Michael Irvin along with Brandon Marshall, Steve Smith Sr., Phil Simms, and host James Brown Tuesday night when Inside The NFL airs on Showtime at 9 p.m. Eastern Time.