HEADLINE

Jets QB Darnold impressive, but not a star yet

The Sports Xchange

September 11, 2018 at 8:24 pm.

It makes things more theatrical when hero sports figures — both real and fictional — fail before they succeed.

Rocky needed to get pummeled by Apollo Creed before he beat him in the rematch, the Miracle on Ice hockey team had to get blasted by the Russians before finally overcoming them in the Olympics, and New York Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold had to throw a pick-six on his first NFL pass before ascending to greatness.

OK, let’s pump the brakes a little. The 21-year-old has a long way to go before he ends the Cold War (like Rocky eventually did) or orchestrate the greatest upset in sports history.

But what a start it was for Darnold.

Imagine being Darnold for a moment. You turned 21 a little more than three months ago. You’ll never have to worry about money again. You’ve won a Rose Bowl as quarterback of one of the most glamorous college programs in the country. Now you’ve just won your professional debut and have the chance to be the savior of a franchise that is as important as any in the league when good, but has been QB-starved the last 50 seasons since its one and only Super Bowl title.

And none of this seems to faze Darnold. Playing in hostile environments, contract holdouts (I bet you already forgot he didn’t show up the first three practices of training camp) and inevitable success — none of it bothers Darnold. Monday night’s 48-17 win was only the beginning, a mere footnote to what should be a long NFL career. But the way he has handled the beginning, the way people talk about him — you get the feeling the Jets may have found their Derek Jeter.

“It’s rare more now days,” Jets head coach Todd Bowles said Tuesday about Darnold’s poise. “It was a little more common back (when I played) for whatever reason, but it’s a little more rare than I’ve been around. It’s exciting to see, because he’s got an old soul but he’s young in age. He understands the game very well and he works at it the right way.”

Jets fans have seen it the other way. Mark Sanchez worked hard at his craft, but he also enjoyed the perks that came with being a quarterback in New York. Even in baseball, former Mets pitcher Matt Harvey got a little too full of his alter ego, The Dark Knight of Gotham, and forgot he needed sustained success for his fame to continue to rise. Now he pitches in Cincinnati.

New York will eventually get its claws on Darnold, but at least for right now, none of that stuff even seems appealing to Darnold. Worry about winning, and the rest will come.

Bowles, for as monotone and dry as he can be in his press conferences, is actually a master when it comes to answering questions.

He was asked Tuesday what stood out to him most about Darnold’s performance that wasn’t apparent to the rest of us. Keep in mind, Darnold was very close to perfect after his pick-six to open the game. He was efficient with the ball, threw well on the run, tossed some nice deep balls, ran for first downs and generally handled a good defense like it was nothing. Oh, and he led the Jets to only their ninth road win in four seasons under Bowles.

“Nothing, for the most part,” Bowles answered. “I thought he played well after the first play. He did some good things. … I thought he handled himself well.”

Bowles is no dummy. Week 1 wins on the road are all well and good, but they mean nothing if you can’t string a few together. The Jets were off Tuesday, and they play two more games by next Thursday night, so Bowles knows the narrative can shift in a hurry.

All of a sudden, the Jets are supposed to start winning games. They’ve been installed as three-point favorites for Sunday’s game against the Dolphins in a matchup where the winner will be a surprising 2-0.

If they beat Miami, you’ll get some Jets fans thinking they can even take down Brady.

So never expect Bowles — or Darnold — to get too high after a win like Monday’s.

Said Bowles: “We had high expectations for ourselves to begin with. That game changes nothing for us, ’cause it was one game, we have 15 more to go. We’re going to try and win those different ways. Obviously, every week won’t be the same, but our expectations have not changed.”

–WR Jermaine Kearse practiced on a limited basis leading up to Monday’s game, but was ultimately held out due to an abdominal injury. It is too early to tell if the seven-year veteran will be available against Miami, head coach Todd Bowles said Tuesday.

–FS Marcus Maye missed Monday’s game with an ankle injury. When asked about his potential availability for Sunday, Bowles said: “We will see how this week goes.”

–OLB Josh Martin missed Monday’s game with a concussion. His next step will be to practice, potentially this week.

–Based on the defensive snap counts, expect Frankie Luvu, an undrafted rookie up from the practice squad only a few days, to continue to get playing time with Martin out. Luvu, who turns 22 next Wednesday, made three tackles against the Lions while playing 50 percent of the defensive snaps. Said Bowles: “I thought he was good for his first game played in the NFL before, and just coming back off the practice squad, I thought he toned down a lot of the mistakes he made in the preseason. I was happy with the way he played.” Luvu had two penalties in the preseason game against the Redskins — one for targeting and another for roughing the passer.

–LB Kevin Pierre-Louis was suspended for Monday’s game for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The Jets will make a roster decision on the backup LB by Wednesday, Bowles said. The Jets signed the former Chief to a two-year, $6 million deal in March (with $2.5 mil guaranteed).

–RB Isaiah Crowell, making his Jets debut, was one of four players with a 100-yard rushing performance in Week 1, joining Pittsburgh’s James Conner (135), the Rams’ Todd Gurley (108) and the Giants’ Saquon Barkley (106). Crowell ran for 102 yards on 10 carries, including a 62-yard touchdown dash, the third-longest run of his five-year career.

–PR Andre Roberts had the most punt-return yardage in Week 1 (137 yards) after a 78-yard touchdown return and other returns of 43 and 16 yards. Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill had 95 punt-return yards against the Chargers, including a 91-yard touchdown.