EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For a New York minute, the future was on display Sunday, and it looked good.
Wide receiver Denzel Mims and running back La'Mical Perine -- both rookies -- combined for 12 touches on the New York Jets' first three possessions. Suddenly, there was energy and speed on offense, not to mention a 10-0 lead over the Buffalo Bills.
This was a sneak preview of the 2021 Jets, with young players in prominent roles (before the 2020 Jets ruined the day). There was only one problem with this picture: The most important young player of them all, quarterback Sam Darnold, might not be part of that future.
It's a sobering reality: The Jets (0-7) are heading for a major shake-up and a high draft pick, and there's a good chance general manager Joe Douglas will want to select his own quarterback to pair with his new coach.
To be clear, this isn't all Darnold's fault, but rather a perfect storm. He has nine games to change the narrative, but there's no evidence to suggest anything will change. The 23-year-old quarterback, who probably feels as if he's 33 in Jets years, was put in too many difficult situations Sunday by a coaching staff that made no adjustments whatsoever in an 18-10 loss at MetLife Stadium.
When Darnold had a chance to make a play, he failed more often than not. The confidence was coached out of him, and the result was an ugly second-half performance. He completed 1 of 8 passes in the second half, as the offense managed four total yards -- the fewest number of yards the Jets have had in any half over the past 40 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Darnold rushed back from a shoulder injury for this?
The frustration was etched on Darnold's face after the game. He's too kind to criticize his coaches publicly, but he sent up a warning flare by saying, "We have to adjust to their adjustments better," -- an unsolicited comment. He said it twice in his postgame Zoom call with reporters, as if trying to make sure they got it the first time. He also noted he should have been more accurate with his throws, so this wasn't a case of passing the buck. (If he were passing the buck, he probably would've been sacked.)
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, who took over the playcalling from coach Adam Gase, never adjusted to Buffalo's pressure schemes in the second half. Darnold was pressured on seven of his 12 second-half dropbacks, per ESPN Stats & Information research. The Jets' rebuilt offensive line, Douglas' passion project, looks as if it needs another rebuild.
At the same time, Darnold could have done a better job of recognizing the blitzes. That's a persistent problem with him; he doesn't diagnose pressure very well. At times, he doesn't see the field. On a late incompletion to Breshad Perriman, the one that nearly resulted in the wide receiver's decapitation, Darnold missed two wide-open receivers underneath, Jeff Smith and Braxton Berrios.
Darnold completed 12 passes for 120 yards, both the second-lowest game totals in his pro career. He threw two interceptions, including a telegraphed pass into quadruple coverage at the end of the first half.
"Yeah, [I] should have moved on in the progression, but I tried to force one in there, and it just didn't work out for me," he said.
Hurt by a weak supporting cast and suspect coaching, Darnold hasn't played well in his third season. It was so bad Sunday that Gase broke out the dreaded, "I-need-to-watch-the-film" line in lieu of assessing the second half.
Soon, Darnold's fate will be in Douglas' hands. If the Jets land the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft, he probably will take Clemson Tigers star Trevor Lawrence. How could he pass on a generational talent whose rookie contract would afford the Jets four more years of financial flexibility? He could flip Darnold for a draft pick, which is why they need him to play well over the final nine games.
Sadly, it has come to this: The Jets' franchise quarterback, his future uncertain, is playing for 31 other franchises.