Jets quarterback Sam Darnold during the second half against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 21, 2018, at MetLife Stadium.

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Lichtenstein: Jets’ Failure to Find Reinforcements At Receiver Proves Costly

Organization Left Darnold Out To Dry Vs. Vikings

Steve Lichtenstein
October 22, 2018 - 9:47 am
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The whole point, at least according to the Jets, of releasing injured wide receiver Terrelle Pryor on Saturday was so the team wouldn’t be short-handed at the position starting with Sunday’s home tilt against the Vikings.

With fellow receiver Quincy Enunwa also on the shelf for at least two more weeks with an ankle injury, Gang Green’s depth chart after starters Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse consisted of Andre Roberts, a return specialist, and Charone Peake, who basically made the roster solely for his work on special teams.

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The Jets reportedly worked out several receivers, including veteran Rishard Matthews and Corey Coleman, the 15th overall selection in the 2016 draft, during the week in preparation for the move.

So how did the Jets finally address this emergency? By promoting from the practice squad Deontay Burnett, a favorite of Jets rookie quarterback Sam, Darnold at USC but who went undrafted in April.

With so few weapons at his disposal, especially after running back Bilal Powell exited during the second quarter with a neck injury, Darnold put forth perhaps his worst performance of the still-young season as the Jets crumbled in the second half of a 37-17 defeat. 

Burnett was pretty much invisible in his 15 snaps, catching one pass for 9 yards. Darnold, meanwhile, went 17-of-42 for 206 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. His numbers in the middle quarters, when the Jets had the stiff wind at their backs, were an incomprehensible 2-of-13 for minus-1 yard and an interception.

MORE: Jets Crushed By Vikings 37-17, Fall To 3-4

How did Darnold explain it? Was it Minnesota’s defense, which played without three injured starters, including pass-rushing beast Everson Griffen? 

“Obviously, (the Vikings) do a lot of different things defensively, but we were prepared for all of it,” Darnold said.

Was it getting used to playing in a tricky wind?

“It wasn’t too windy out there,” Darnold said. “I didn’t really struggle with it at all, in my opinion.”

LISTEN: Boomer & Gio React To Jets' Loss Vs. Vikings

Or maybe it was a lack of chemistry with the backup receivers? Darnold wouldn’t go there either, nor should he have.

“All of us here are professionals,” Darnold said. “The guys who were playing today are great players.”

The Jets can say it, but those in charge certainly shouldn’t believe it. 

Roberts caught just two of six targets for 21 yards as Enunwa’s replacement in the slot.  It looked like he and Darnold were rarely on the same page. Peake had one target, that a late fourth-quarter ball that caromed off his hands and into those of Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes for an interception. 

The key series occurred midway through the fourth quarter. The Jets got within 27-17 and were gaining momentum following a shanked Minnesota punt. It opened with an injury to Anderson, who appeared to have been interfered with by Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes on a deep ball down the left sideline. The insult (noncall) and injury (Anderson) left Darnold to face a second-and-10 with Kearse, Roberts, Peake and Neal Sterling split out. That’s some fearsome foursome. 

Of course, Darnold got picked, with his throw sailing so far over Roberts’ head that it made me wonder whether Roberts ran the correct depth the route called for. The Vikings scored a back-breaking touchdown three minutes later. 

Earlier in the third quarter, the Jets, trailing 20-7, were in business following Roberts’ 53-yard kickoff return. On a third-and-12, Darnold threw a strike that should have led his receiver toward a first down.

Except that receiver was tight end Eric Tomlinson, who has no business on the field unless he has a blocking assignment. Tomlinson’s egregious drop made the Jets settle for a 55-yard Jason Myers field goal.

Darnold is going to take some heat for his role in the game, and rightly so. He was inaccurate and made some poor decisions. It’s part of the learning process almost all young quarterbacks go through.    

However, let’s not understate how the organization left him out to dry Sunday. I don’t want to hear, “Well, the Jets weren’t ready to win this season” so they did nothing. No one knows anything about how a particular NFL team will fare. 

The Jets were 3-3 entering Sunday, and some of those losses could have turned with a better supporting cast. General manager Mike Maccagnan wasn’t aggressive enough in targeting game-changing linebacker Khalil Mack earlier in the year, and he should have been aggressive if, as has been alleged, certain top receivers such as Amari Cooper and Demaryius Thomas were on the trade market this week.

Both players have large cap hits in 2019, but so what? That should be a bargaining chip the Jets could use to reduce theoretical trade consideration. The only Jets receiver under contract for next season is Peake, and he would cost just $17,000 in prorated bonus dead money if cut. The Jets’ projected $100 million in cap space means nothing unless it will be used for good players. Do the Jets really think they can find a No. 1 receiver in free agency, where it’s usually the middling players who get overpaid to switch teams?    

And why bother releasing Pryor, who recorded touchdown receptions in each of his last two games, at all? Even if the Jets think they can get him back, now any team can poach him when he returns to health in about two weeks, per multiple reports. 

Injuries are bound to occur. This is football, not billiards. NFL teams are supposed to have a next-man-up mentality. But what if the next man up isn’t prepared to play?

Then it’s time to find new men.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1