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The New York Jets hired coach Adam Gase because they believed he could help young quarterback Sam Darnold maximize his potential.
And since his first day on the job, 23 months ago, Gase has been relentlessly positive and optimistic about Darnold's progress, regardless of the results on the field. On Thursday, the coach finally admitted reality.
"I came here to help him, help him develop his career and we haven’t been able to do that," Gase said.
This was supposed to be a breakout year for Darnold, a chance to show that he'd made progress in his second year in Gase's offense and his third season in the league. Instead, it has turned into a nightmare.
The Jets are 0-11 for the first time in franchise history and have a 7-20 record since Gase took over as head coach. Darnold has been inconsistent and unsure in seven games, throwing three touchdowns and eight interceptions.
That miserable record and Darnold's lack of progress will likely lead to Gase being fired after the final five games of the season.
Gase made it clear that he does not blame Darnold for the miserable state of the team. He pointed out that other players have struggled, and also took responsibility for his role in Darnold's struggles.
"We need to do things well around him, but at the same time it’s on me to get him to play better than what he’s played and so far," Gase said. "I haven’t done a good enough job. I have to just keep trying to help him."
But Darnold, who has been an unwavering defender of Gase, disagreed with his coach's assessment of the situation.
"I take full responsibility for the way I've played," Darnold said. "I haven't played well enough. ... We have great people in this organization, and with that being said, everyone's going to take blame for certain parts of us not winning games.
"But I've got to play better and put the team in the right situations to be able to win games, and make it close at the end."
Despite the grim situation, Gase is still hopeful that Darnold can get things pointed in the right direction over the next month. The Jets host the Raiders on Sunday (1 p.m., CBS).
"That’s why every game is so important," Gase said. "Keep trying to help him grow, keep trying to help him develop and see things the way that he needs to see them and play the way I’ve seen him play in certain games."
Darnold has shown moments of brilliance throughout his time with the Jets. He's made jaw-dropping throws that few of his peers are capable of. There have been remarkable scrambles, when he implausibly finds a way to make a big play.
But he continues to make the costly, avoidable mistakes that have plagued him since college. He's less comfortable and confident in the pocket than he was as a rookie and his imprecise footwork continues to be an issue.
Much of that is on Darnold. But he's also been failed by the Jets in so many ways.
They hired a coach that never found a way to tailor the offense to maximize Darnold's strength, and couldn't make the proper adjustments once it was clear that it wasn't working. The front office — first under GM Mike Maccaganan and now Joe Douglas — hasn't provided Darnold with reliable, or even competent protection on the offensive line, and has surrounded him with mostly unproven playmakers.
And there has been plenty of bad luck along the way. Darnold missed three of his first four games under Gase last year after being diagnosed with mono.
"If you’re in Vegas, that’s not one you probably bet on," Gase said.
And Darnold sprained his throwing shoulder in Week 4 this year, missing four games over the next two months. And that was after a
"It’s frustrating for both of us," Gase said. "I think he’s trying to do everything he can possibly do, it’s hard to control the injury situation. ... No offseason, shortened training camp, would have loved to have had a lot of time to work with him on a lot of different things. And then things didn’t go quite the way we wanted them to early in the year and it just kind of kind of snowballed on us."
The end result: Darnold hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since September, a four-game drought that is the longest of his career. The last one was Week 3 in the loss to the Colts.
"I’m sure it bothers him," Gase said. "Knowing things like that. I mean, I look at as you know we got to do a better job as a staff. We got to put these guys in the best position possible and then those guys got to go execute. I mean it’s on all of us, we all have to do a better job and we have to find a way to, one, put the ball in the end zone."