EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Some day, Sam Darnold might be a better quarterback than Kirk Cousins. Some day, the New York Jets may look back at their ill-fated pursuit of Cousins and call it the best rejection they've ever received.
Some day. But not Sunday, which served as a reminder the two quarterbacks and their respective teams are in totally different places.
Struggling with the blustery conditions at MetLife Stadium, Darnold was outplayed by the Minnesota Vikings' $84 million quarterback in a 37-17 loss that snapped the Jets' two-game winning streak. It was Darnold's worst game as a pro, as he completed only 17 of 42 passes for 206 yards, with three interceptions and a touchdown for a 34.4 passer rating.
In the second and third quarters, Darnold was 2-of-13 for minus-1 yard. Not a misprint.
"They did a good job scouting us and they did a good job of taking away things we like to do," coach Todd Bowles said. "They have a good secondary. They won more battles than we won."
Darnold, coming off his best game, learned a hard lesson in NFL quarterbacking. He had no answers for the Vikings (4-2-1), a formidable defensive team with the ability to pressure and lock down wide receivers with man-to-man coverage. It can be a deadly combination for an inexperienced quarterback. He completed only two passes to his wide receivers through three quarters, rather stunning in today's NFL. Jermaine Kearse, who had nine receptions last week, was held without a catch.
Now the front office must consider this question: Should it acquire a wide receiver before next Tuesday’s trading deadline? Without Quincy Enunwa (ankle) for a few weeks, and with the just-released Terrelle Pryor (groin) on an injury sabbatical, so to speak, the Jets are down to Kearse, Robby Anderson and a bunch of inexperienced tight ends.
Amari Cooper and Demaryius Thomas are big-name receivers reportedly on the trading block. The Jets aren’t a win-now team, so it wouldn’t make sense to trade future assets for a playoff run that may not happen. But at the same time, they must consider Darnold’s development. Will they impede his growth by standing pat?
“We’ll see if everyone is healthy,” said Bowles, responding to a question about a potential reinforcement at receiver. “I think we have enough capable bodies right now.”
This was a back-to-reality game for Darnold and the Jets (3-4), who simply weren't good enough to beat an alleged Super Bowl contender. Make no mistake, the Vikings weren't great -- and Cousins was only pedestrian -- but that was good enough to beat the Jets, who hurt themselves with dropped passes (Charone Peake, Isaiah Crowell and Eric Tomlinson) and a number of gaffes on special teams. Eventually, the defense collapsed, too.
Mostly, it was bad offense. They were 2-for-13 on third down. After a long touchdown drive in the first quarter, they managed only four net yards on the next 10 possessions. The Vikings forced Darnold to make tight-window throws (less than one yard separation), and he went 0-for-10 on those attempts, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. It was the most attempts without a completion by any quarterback in the last three seasons.
“As a receiver, you always feel like you’re open,” Kearse said. “I’ll watch the tape. I felt like there were some opportunities I had. It’s just something that’s out of my control. I have to control what I can.”
Without Quincy Enunwa and running back Bilal Powell (neck), injured in the second quarter, the situation wasn't ideal. This also was Darnold's first taste of Northeastern weather. Before Sunday, the California kid -- raised and schooled in the Los Angeles area -- had played in only one game in which the temperature was below 50 degrees -- a 45-degree game in Utah in 2016.
“No, not at all,” Darnold said, when asked if the conditions were challenging.
To become a championship-caliber quarterback, Darnold will have to learn how to handle the nasty winds of MetLife. One interception, though, came with the wind at his back -- a poor throw to Robby Anderson. In the fourth quarter, Darnold missed Andre Roberts over the middle (a possible miscommunication). The last interception wasn't Darnold's fault; it went off Peake's hands.
For Darnold to be successful, he needs a running game -- and there was none (only 71 yards on 24 carries). The Jets are 0-4 when Darnold attempts more than 30 passes in a game, so it's not hard to figure out the formula.
The Jets tried to make Cousins their quarterback in free agency, offering a fully guaranteed $90 million deal, but they were spurned even though they offered more than the Vikings. They wound up drafting Darnold, who will be very good in time.
This time, the team with the win-now quarterback won. Easily.