A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:
1. Darnold can be slump buster: The only championship team in franchise history -- the 1968 Jets -- will be honored Sunday at halftime, commemorating the 50th anniversary of its Super Bowl III victory. It'll be a bittersweet occasion. While it's always great to honor past champions, it'll also serve as a reminder of the franchise's half-century title drought.
I spoke to five members of the '68 Jets this week, and they believe the organization finally has a young quarterback who, with proper nurturing, can end the misery. Their thoughts on rookie Sam Darnold and the direction of the team:
John Schmitt, center: "I love him, I love him. I think the guy has balls. He doesn’t gets shook. Throw an interception? So what? I’ll throw a completion right after. That first game, that first play, interception, seven points, but he comes back and wins the game. I think he’s a really, really great kid. He’s what we need. I wish they didn’t break him in so quick, but maybe that’s the best way to do it. He seems to be accepting the pressure as well as anyone could. If I had a daughter that age, I'd want to bring him home to introduce him to her."
Gerry Philbin, defensive end (Ring of Honor): "I was happy they got him and I was happy they started him. I always believe if you’re going to go all-out and pay that much for somebody and trade for him, you might as well play him. Put him in there. He really has the poise back there. He doesn’t get rattled. The first game of the year, the first play of his career, to throw an interception, that would rattle the heck out of anybody, but he came back and they won the game big. That was one hell of a way to introduce yourself to the NFL."
Randy Rasmussen, guard: "I’m kind of excited about this new young quarterback. He needs time, though. What is he, 21 years old? Oh, my God. Just don’t panic with him. I've said you might have to sit him down for a couple of weeks if he needs to get his act together. I hope that doesn’t happen, but if that happens, it’s fine, it’ll be OK. But I have high hopes for him. He knows how to control the huddle. That’s real important, real important."
Emerson Boozer, running back (Ring of Honor): "I like him. He doesn’t really stand out, he’s just consistent. He’s consistent in what he does. That’s what I look for in a quarterback -- the consistency. But there’s nothing that stands out to me about him. He could be [a Super Bowl quarterback], you just don’t know. He needs the protection and the pieces around him. Quarterbacks just don’t stand out by themselves. They need help."
Pete Lammons, tight end: "I’m kind of surprised they started Darnold [right away]. That first game, it looked like he was going to be [Joe] Namath, the way he started out throwing an interception. Wait, maybe you shouldn't put that in, you’ll get me in trouble. [laughing]"
Rasmussen: "When Namath came in, he was a gunslinger. When you do that, these guys are going to burn you for a while. But he finally figured it out, and that’s kind of what you have to go through with this kid. … Oh, no, no, we hope there’s not another Namath. [laughing] I don’t know how that style would fly in this day and age. There’s only one Joe. And there’s only one Brett Favre and only one Tom Brady. If this kid makes it, he’ll create his own image, but it looks to me like he has the potential."
Lammons: "I don’t know there’ll be another [Namath], but they might have one better, you never know. This kid, he might be the real thing. It’ll take a little while to settle in. It took Joe a couple or three years to figure out what was happening."
Philbin: "I still love the Jets. I’ve been a little disappointed, but they surprise you every now and then -- and they disappoint you. I think their time is coming. They have a lot of cap space. If they have an 8-8 season -- I guess people aren't expecting more than that -- they can go out and get free agents. Maybe it's a building season. All of a sudden, they have themselves a playoff contender in two years."
2. Remembering absent friends: The Jets were expecting at least two dozen former players to attend the reunion weekend. Eleven players are deceased and at least four are known to be suffering from forms of dementia, adding a tinge of sadness to the occasion. Age (most are in their late 70s) and the ravages of football have caught up to them, sadly.
"Fifty years, Lord have mercy," Lammons said. "That’s a long time. You just kind of realize this will probably be the last time we all get together. Quite a few of us have departed, so it won’t be quite as much fun without them."
3. Mixed signals? It became a semi-big story in the preseason when coach Todd Bowles indicated his plans to have linebacker Darron Lee as the primary signal-caller on defense. Well, it hasn't worked out that way. Middle linebacker Avery Williamson is the man with the green dot on his helmet, meaning he gets the call from the sideline and communicates it to the huddle.
Williamson said he handled the responsibility with the Tennessee Titans from 2014 to 2016, so he has experience in that role. He admitted there were a couple of hiccups last week with Bowles, who assumed the playcalling duties with coordinator Kacy Rodgers (illness) not at the game.
"A couple of times, on one series, I didn't know what he was saying," Williamson said with a smile, adding that he had to get accustomed to a new voice in his helmet.
Now that he's had a full week of practice with Bowles, Williamson doesn't expect any issues against the Indianapolis Colts.
4. Jets trivia: Going back to the 2009 draft, which Jets pick has played the most games in the NFL? Answer below.
5. The new Leo: Leonard Williams last week enjoyed his most productive game since 2016, racking up two sacks. He actually got to the quarterback three times, but two were ruled half-sacks. Two important notes on his big day:
All three quarterback hits came on third-down plays, a positive development. He went the entire 2017 season without a third-down sack.
Also, did you notice 1.5 sacks came when he was lined up as the left end? That's a new wrinkle in the defense. Williams said he feels comfortable rushing from left end, something he didn't get a chance to do that often in previous years because Muhammad Wilkerson was on the left side. Now that Wilkerson is gone, Williams has stepped into the role, which he described as his comfort zone.
6. Fifteen minutes of shame: The Jets need to figure out a way to get off to better starts. They've been outscored in the first quarter, 24-7, having gone four straight games without a first-quarter point. The biggest problem: Turnovers. They've fallen behind because of two interceptions by Darnold and a fumble by Bilal Powell. Like many Bill Walsh disciples, offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates scripts the first 15 plays, but this isn't an X's-and-O's issue. It's a focus issue. It must improve.
7. Trivia answer: It's Colts guard Matt Slauson, who has appeared in 113 games. Slauson, a sixth-round pick in 2009, played with the Jets through 2012. He was placed on injured reserve this week with two fractured vertebrae in his back.