Only the Jets.
Only the Jets can find a way to stain the finest career performance of their prized rookie quarterback, Sam Darnold.
Only the Jets can find a way to render Darnold’s sparkling 24-of-35 for 341 yards, three touchdowns, no turnovers and 128.4 passer rating into a mere footnote on the newspaper agate page.
That’s what blowing a 15-point fourth-quarter lead will do.
That’s what 170 yards on 16 penalties — which included some of the most damaging, game-turning defensive infractions you’ll ever see in one Sunday sitting — will do.
When the usually catatonic and controversy-free Todd Bowles stood at the podium after his team leaked away a 35-20 lead in the final 12 minutes of regulation to lose 44-38 in overtime and said, “Taking no credit away from [the Packers], but we can’t play two teams,” I misunderstood the meaning of his stunning and rare rant.
I thought the Jets coach was lamenting the fact that his team had to overcome not only the Packers but itself, referring to all of those dumb penalties.
Because that’s been one of the most common characteristics of Bowles’ Jets teams for the past four seasons: They’ve been as responsible for beating themselves as their opponents have.
Instead, Bowles blamed the officiating crew when he said, “I thought we were playing the Packers and the stripes.”
Those were losers’ words of frustration from a head coach who knows, after four largely unsuccessful seasons, he has only one more game to coach the Jets before he’s fired at season’s end. Sunday’s postgame was his damn-the-torpedoes moment.
If you feel sorry at all for Bowles, you should feel bad he’ll no longer get to coach Darnold because Darnold is going to rise above the ashes of this 4-11 (so far) season and take this franchise with him long after Bowles is on to his next job, likely as a defensive coordinator somewhere.
When you watched Darnold do the things he did Sunday at MetLife — deftly moving around in and out of the pocket, buying time, directing his receivers and making big plays out of nothing — there were times when he reminded you of the quarterback playing for the other team on this day, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
Is it possible that Darnold will become the Jets’ version of Rodgers?
“Time will tell, but that’s the hope,’’ Jets veteran backup quarterback Josh McCown told The Post after the game. “That guy over there [Rodgers] has been good for a long, long time. He’s going to be a Hall of Famer. As a young player like Sam, if you can do things that conjure images of that guy, you’re doing a good job.’’
If you’re a Jets fan who watched the game, as outraged as you might have been seeing your team blow yet another lead (hello, Browns, Titans and Texans losses this season), you have to be further encouraged about what you have in your quarterback after what you witnessed Sunday.
Darnold’s cumulative stats from the past three games — 64-of-97 (66 percent) with six touchdowns and one interception — are highly impressive, but the way he’s looked in producing those numbers has been even more impressive than the numbers themselves.
When I asked McCown how he would feel if he were a Jets fan watching Darnold right now, he said: “If I’ve been in this division for the last 18 years and seen what a really good quarterback can do for a franchise, I’d be excited if I’m a Jets fan. Because I’m excited where this guy is headed and I know the impact that can have on an organization — just because I’ve seen it for 18 years as a Jets fan.”
McCown was referring to the impact Tom Brady has had on the Patriots for the past 18 years.
Brady will be 42 next season. The Dolphins and Bills appear to be regressing and neither seems to have solved its quarterback puzzle. Perhaps it’s too much to dare to imagine, but the AFC East could be the Jets to dominate soon if the team hires the right head coach and builds around Darnold.
Because he has a chance to be that good.
“I truly believe this kid’s going to be a star,” veteran receiver Jermaine Kearse said.
“I like his game,” Rodgers said. “He played great. He threw the ball really well … moving around, making throws on the run. I think he has a bright future.”
It might be difficult for Jets fans to see through the darkness of days like Sunday, but the future indeed is bright with No. 14 behind center and getting better every day. So, amid the rubble of Sunday’s loss and this lost season, embrace that.
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