Lichtenstein: Darnold Diagnosis A Death Knell For Jets’ Season

Steve Lichtenstein
September 12, 2019 - 1:57 pm
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Before the start of Thursday morning’s press conference, a reporter asked Jets coach Adam Gase if the building was on fire.

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“Close,” Gase replied.

The ensuing minutes should have been accompanied by a sole trumpeter playing in the background. You know, to signify the death of the Jets’ season.

Rule number one of being a Jets fan: Never believe it can’t get any worse.

Not only did Gase announce there was no progression regarding the injuries we already knew about to big-money free agent linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, the Jets’ third-overall 2019 draft pick, he silenced the room by breaking the news that quarterback Sam Darnold has a bout of mononucleosis and running back Le’Veon Bell needs an MRI due to a sore shoulder.  

That 17-16 choke job to Buffalo in the season opener on Sunday is looming larger.  The issue with Darnold, who had hoped to build upon a promising 2018 rookie season, likely won’t just keep him out of Monday’s tilt with Cleveland at MetLife Stadium. The diagnosis comes with a warning about avoiding contact that could possibly damage the spleen. 

The Jets travel to New England before their Week 4 bye. I’m guessing the earliest possible Darnold sighting will be in Philadelphia in Week 5. If it’s the typical four-to-six-week recovery, Darnold might also miss the home games versus Dallas and New England.

Now, the optimists will wax on about how the Jets can overcome this with backup Trevor Siemian behind center and the “Any Given Sunday” nature of the NFL. But long-suffering fans of this franchise know better. 

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They will start off 0-6, maybe 1-5 if they’re really lucky. When Darnold returns and the schedule eases - on paper - we know the Jets will win some games that do nothing but wreck their draft position.

Isn’t it always the worst-case scenario with this team?

Siemian may have a winning career record (13-11) as a starter, but he is a game manager at best.  In his last season on the field with Denver in 2017, he was ranked 41st in QB rating when under pressure among the 45 signal-callers with over 100 pressured snaps, per ProFootballFocus.com.  Against Buffalo, Darnold was under siege on 18 of 47 drop backs, per PFF, and sacked four times.   

It should also be noted that Siemian played alongside some pretty good Broncos defenses, with star pass rushers and cover corners, which enabled him to play a safer game. The Jets don’t have that luxury.  Gase ripped the Jets’ cornerbacks’ performance against Buffalo in a conference call on Monday. It’s not going to get any easier going forward. The QBs they will face in their next five games - counting New England’s Tom Brady twice - averaged 337 yards passing in Week 1.     

To make matters worse, the Jets’ weapons cabinet is almost bare.  Bell, who sat out all of last season due to a contract dispute with Pittsburgh and played zero snaps this preseason, received 23 touches against the tough Bills’ defense on Sunday. Gase said the Jets are just being cautious, but you never know what the test results will show.

Le'Veon Bell #26 of the New York Jets warms up before their preseason game against the New Orleans Saints at MetLife Stadium on August 24, 2019
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

In addition to Bell’s questionable status, tight end Chris Herndon is suspended for three more games due to a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy and wide receiver Quincy Enunwa was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a serious neck injury on Wednesday.  That’s three of the five starters at the skill positions plus the quarterback.  Gase joked that newly acquired wide receiver Demaryius Thomas could easily play against the Browns even if his balky hamstring never allows him to practice. 

“We’re running out of bodies,” Gase said. 

Siemian is the kind of quarterback who throws the ball three yards downfield on third-and-eight. He has averaged a middling 6.8 yards-per-attempt in his career. That’s right up Gase’s alley—Darnold’s 2.3 average completed air yards was Week 1’s second lowest, per NFL Next Gen Stats. It took hard work for wide receiver Jamison Crowder to catch the ball 14 times without breaking 100 yards. In fact, that had never happened before in NFL history, according to ESPN.

Banking on long drives of runs and short passes is not going to cut it against the teams the Jets are about to face in the next month.  And by the time the injury wave ebbs, there will be nothing left to play for.

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