MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- When it comes to rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, the New York Jets never will use the R word: regression. Jobs and reputations are riding on his development, so the public spin always will be positive. But the hard truth is he is regressing -- a 43.3 passer rating in the past three games. It's not all his fault -- the kid can't even count on a clean shotgun snap -- but let's be brutally honest:
Darnold, who threw four interceptions in Sunday's 13-6 loss to the Miami Dolphins, has veered into a serious funk.
No. No. No.
At 3-6, the Jets are out of playoff contention, so it would serve no purpose to replace Darnold with veteran Josh McCown. He needs experience and game reps even if its costs the team in the short term. This is life with a rookie quarterback; this is the Season of Sam. Let him play his way out of it unless it becomes blatantly apparent that he has lost his way. If he reaches that point, it'll be time to sit him down and let him clear his head.
The thought must be on Todd Bowles' mind, but he wanted no part of that conversation after his third straight loss. Asked if he's considering a switch to McCown to create a spark, the Jets' coach said, "Not right now, no."
If Darnold continues to struggle, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to put him on the bench for a game. Hey, some of greatest quarterbacks in history got benched as rookies. The Jets have to do what is best for Darnold's development because he means everything to the franchise. In other words, they'd better not screw him up, like they did a couple of regimes ago with Mark Sanchez. Sometimes you wonder if this organization will ever know how to build a quarterback. If they can't get Darnold turned around over the final seven games, it could be curtains for Bowles, who must convince ownership he can be trusted with the quarterback's future.
On Sunday, the playcalling lacked creativity; that's on offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates. Also, Bowles stubbornly refused to remove center Spencer Long even though it was clear to everyone in Hard Rock Stadium that he was laboring with his shotgun snaps. His off-target snaps wrecked Darnold's timing, making things harder than they needed to be. His worst throw of the game -- a pick-six by linebacker Jerome Baker in the fourth quarter -- began with an errant snap.
"Yeah, it disrupts timing, but that's no excuse for how I played out there," said Darnold, who called it his most frustrating game. "I have to play better."
Darnold tried to get the ball over Baker's head, trying to squeeze it through a small window to tight end Eric Tomlinson, but he said he "alligator-armed it." Darnold admitted, "I didn't throw it with confidence." A couple of weeks ago, he said he'd make a concerted effort to throw confidently, to have a "let-er-rip" mentality on every pass. That hasn't happened. He's a confident 21-year-old, but he wouldn't be human if self-doubt hasn't crept into his mind.
"I just have to be sharper," he said. "Personally, I have to have a better plan when I get to the line of scrimmage. I just have to know exactly where I'm going to go with the ball. I have to have a better plan."
He needed a better plan on his first interception, a curious throw into quadruple coverage. He didn't see running back Isaiah Crowell wide open as a checkdown option.
Darnold's past three games look like this: a 47 percent completion rate (52-for-110) for 588 yards, two touchdowns and seven interceptions. He leads the NFL with 14 interceptions. The last Jets quarterback to have at least 14 interceptions in the team's first nine games was Richard Todd in 1983 (also 14), and the team has had a lot of bad quarterback play since then.
Against the Dolphins' underwhelming defense, Darnold's four picks were off-target throws, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Only Josh Freeman, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers bust, threw more off-target interceptions in a game over the past 10 seasons (five in 2009).
"I know two for sure he'd like to have back," Bowles said. "The last one was fourth down; he had to throw it up. But they weren't great throws, and he would like to have them back. We'll have to go back to the drawing board."
Bowles was asked about the R word.
"No, I don't think he regressed," he replied. "He's going to have some bad throws. He just can't turn it over."
They've come this far with Darnold, so why turn back? The season is lost anyway.