New York Jets' Sam Darnold practices with hopes QB can start

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Desperate for an offensive spark, the New York Jets are hoping quarterback Sam Darnold will return to the lineup Sunday after missing two games with a shoulder injury.

Darnold, who suffered an AC joint sprain on Oct. 1, returned to practice Wednesday for the first time, albeit on a limited basis. He took first-team reps and threw the ball with good velocity during the open portion of practice.

Coach Adam Gase was non-committal on whether Darnold will start against the Buffalo Bills (4-2), saying he will evaluate him as the week progresses. From all indications, the plan is to start Darnold, barring a setback.

"All options are available," Gase said before practice. "We'll have him on a pitch count. I think really the biggest thing is how he's going to feel (Thursday).

"If there's anything that lingers or anything where he's throwing (in pain), that's kind of his red flag of, 'Hey, I have to let you guys know.' We need him to be real honest."

Darnold won't get all the first-team reps in practice during the week, as he will split work with backup Joe Flacco, who started the last two games and led the offense to only one touchdown in 25 possessions. The problem is, if Darnold has a setback and doesn't start, it will put Flacco in a difficult spot in that he will have had fewer practice reps than a typical week for a starter. Gase said he's not worried about that because of Flacco's experience.

"If it's a little less reps, I'll be all right with that," Gase said. "He can handle that. If it was a second-year player behind Sam, I'd be a little more concerned."

Flacco weighed in on the situation later Tuesday.

"Obviously, it's going to be a different role for me because when I have played, I've usually taken the reps," he said. "But, listen, I've played a lot of games and I have all the confidence that whatever the situation is for myself ... I'll make it work."

The Jets (0-6), the NFL's only winless team, have produced only six offensive touchdowns, as the heat on Gase continues to intensify. The Jets' average margin of defeat is 18 points.

Darnold, too, has received criticism for a slow start, raising questions about his long-term future with the organization. Gase defended Darnold, insisting "it's unfair to judge him" because he hasn't had his full complement of wide receivers.

That could change Sunday, as rookie Denzel Mims -- plagued by injuries to both hamstrings -- could make his NFL debut. He would join Jamison Crowder and Breshad Perriman, who returned last week after missing three games with a sprained ankle.

Perriman, Crowder and Mims, a second-round pick from Baylor, were projected as starters when training camp opened, but Mims didn't practice until last week because of the injuries.

"You'd like to have the three dudes you planned on having out there," Gase said. "I mean, that's fair to ask of the guy, so he can see what it looks like when he has all three starters out there."

The former first-round pick has been inconsistent this season, having completed only 59% of his passes for 792 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions.

The Jets are 0-8 when Darnold doesn't start, dating to his rookie year, 2018.