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One amazing play reaffirms Jets' belief in Sam Darnold's many 'gifts'

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Cruz: Steelers' defense will be key vs. Jets (1:12)

Victor Cruz predicts the Steelers' defense will step up and lead the team past the Jets. (1:12)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:

1. Sam-sational: Try this at home: Take a football, sprint to your right for 30 yards, reach a top speed of 16.98 mph (if you can) and throw the ball across your body to a target 21.8 yards away, squeezing it through an opening the size of a dinner plate.

That's what Jets quarterback Sam Darnold did last week on his first touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder, numbers courtesy of NFL Next Gen Stats -- and he did it with two Baltimore Ravens defenders in hot pursuit.

"That was about as good a throw as I've seen live in a long time," coach Adam Gase said. "That was ridiculous."

"Mom, Dad and God gave him a lot of gifts," offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said of Darnold's wizardry.

Those gifts allow Darnold to make a handful of sensational plays each week. It's on his coaches to help him make the routine plays on a consistent basis. They're getting there.

The Gase-bashers might not want to hear this, but Darnold has made solid strides over the second half of the season -- one of the few positives in this sorry season. No, he hasn't taken that giant second-year leap that many expected, but he also hasn't regressed like the Cleveland Browns' Baker Mayfield.

Which puts Gase somewhere between Freddie Kitchens and Andy Reid on the quarterback-whisperer scale.

Since his well-documented sit-down with Gase in Week 9, Darnold has 12 touchdown passes and four interceptions. The team is 4-3 over that span (and 5-9 overall). He's still prone to "critical errors," as he calls them. He can be terrific for two quarters, then throw a costly interception, as he did against the Ravens in a two-minute drill.

Every quarterback throws them. Darnold is learning the difference between a bad decision and an aggressive decision, which is how interceptions are differentiated in the Jets' quarterback room.

"I think it [happens] over time, but I'm not thinking like five years," Gase said of quarterback consistency. "I think the way he's accelerated, it's been pretty quick. I feel like things are clicking for him. He understands more and more every day."

These final two games will say a lot about the Darnold-Gase partnership. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills are excellent defensive teams that will challenge Darnold with different schemes -- a 3-4 and 4-3, respectively. The games are big for Gase, too, because he could use a strong finish to quiet his many critics.

2. Money talks loudest: Safety Jamal Adams said all the right things: He loves New York. He loves the Jets. His "calling" is to play for them because they "made my dream come true." Yeah, he spread it on thick the other day.

"I'm here and I'll continue to be here until I'm told differently," he said. "But I want to be here."

But don't take that syrupy talk to mean he will be here. Adams and the Jets haven't talked money yet, and money can change everything.

Once the season is over, Adams will be eligible for a new contract. He's due to make at least $13.5 million over the next two seasons, including a 2021 team option that figures to be approximately $10 million. Clearly, he has outperformed his rookie contract and it would be ridiculous for him not to seek a new deal. Word has it that he wants to become the highest-paid safety, which would put him about $15 million per year.

If the Jets refuse to renegotiate, or if they won't go that high ... well, we'll see if his "calling" remains the Jets. If his feelings were hurt at the trade deadline in October, when the Jets dangled him in talks, imagine how he'd feel if they don't show him the love at the bargaining table. We've seen it happen many times over the years. If an athlete doesn't feel appreciated (i.e., fairly compensated), he will make a stink and get traded to a team willing to meet his price.

It will be an interesting offseason with Adams, who will return to the lineup Sunday after a two-game absence due to an ankle injury.

3. The Pitts: The Jets play the Steelers (1 p.m. ET, CBS) in their final home game of the decade, and maybe there's some symmetry to that. Their most recent playoff game was against the Steelers in the 2010 AFC Championship Game, which seems like the Mesozoic Age. It was a crushing loss, 24-19, but there was every reason to believe the championship window would stay open.

It slammed shut quickly.

Former Jets coach Rex Ryan, who presided over back-to-back trips to the AFC title game and the beginning of The Great Collapse, was critical of the organization on this week's "Flight Deck" podcast. He ripped the Jets' recent free-agency strategy -- "They went for broke and came up empty" -- but saved his harshest critique for Gase.

"I'd give him an F," said Ryan, who is an ESPN analyst. "I'd give him an F because I don't see any fight. F is for fight; it's really lack of fight. I don't like what they're doing with that team. ... This team was built to win right now, and you're not even close."

On the positive side, Ryan loves Darnold's long-term potential and believes in general manager Joe Douglas, who, like him, spent his formative years in the Ravens' organization.

"Joe D will do a good job," Ryan said. "He comes from the Ravens' family, and nobody did it better than Ozzie Newsome & Co."

4. Gase's exes and ohs: The AFC Pro Bowl roster isn't a flattering commentary on Gase. Two of his former Miami Dolphins players were selected for the first time on new teams -- tackle Laremy Tunsil (Houston Texans) and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (Steelers). Gase's former quarterback, Ryan Tannehill (Tennessee Titans), is a Pro Bowl alternate, enjoying a career season.

It's unfair to say all three are thriving because they finally escaped Gase -- they landed in winning programs, which helps -- but it's certainly noteworthy amid the coach's struggles with the Jets.

5. Did you know? Remember in the preseason when the Jets were scrambling to find a punt returner? It looked like they were doomed to a season of musical punt returners. On the final cut-down, they claimed Braxton Berrios on waivers from the New England Patriots and -- don't look now -- he leads the league in punt-return average (11.1).

Let's put that in perspective: From 2013 to 2017, the Jets were the worst punt-returning team (6.8). They broke out of the funk last season with Andre Roberts, an All-Pro selection, and Berrios has continued the pace in an under-the-radar kind of way. He hasn't scored, but he has 12 returns of at least 10 yards, tied for second in the league.

It was a nice pickup by Douglas, and another terrific coaching job by special teams coordinator Brant Boyer.

6. Hill to the mountaintop? When he was a young assistant coach at West Point in the late 1960s, Bill Parcells sometimes drove across the Hudson River to check out the Jets' training camp in Peekskill, New York. Observing practice, he developed an affinity for left tackle Winston Hill, a perennial AFL all-star who would become one of the most decorated players in Jets history.

This week, Hill was named one of 20 finalists in the senior category for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2020. Ten seniors will be inducted into the Canton, Ohio, shrine as part of the expanded centennial class. I asked Parcells if Hill is Hall-worthy.

"Are you kidding me? He was a tremendous player -- a tremendous player," the Hall of Fame coach said. "He was one of the best two or three tackles in the AFL when it started. Trust me, he was good."

Hill, who died in 2016, protected Joe Namath's blind side for his entire career in New York. Hopefully, the selection committee will recognize Hill's excellence with a posthumous induction. Unfortunately, former Jets star Joe Klecko didn't make the cut, which doesn't seem right.

7. The last word: "Yeah, it's a great job. It's not an easy thing to do. They've found a way to be able to kind of handle that bump in the road and find a way to win." -- Gase on Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who is 8-4 without Ben Roethlisberger, including 3-1 with third-string quarterback Duck Hodges. Gase is 0-3 with his backups.