EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Sam Darnold’s growing pains will last an entire season, maybe longer. That's how it goes with rookie quarterbacks. What's important is how he's received by teammates. Does he provide hope? Does he command the respect of the locker room? Adversity has a way of shining a light on the situation, and it was clear where the New York Jets rookie stood after Sunday's loss.
Nearly an hour after the game, receiver Terrelle Pryor was in front of his locker, telling the world he messed up on Darnold's second interception. He said he ran a sloppy route in the back of the end zone and he apologized to Darnold after the game. This was significant on a couple of levels. It showed maturity from Pryor, who was known as a "me" guy last season in Washington. More importantly, it was a vote of confidence for the young quarterback, who already has set a standard for himself and those around him.
Yes, it was a bad loss to the Miami Dolphins, 20-12, but what transpired afterward will serve them well in the future, starting Thursday night in Cleveland.
"The way Sam throws, he doesn't look at you, he doesn't stare at you when he throws, he believes that you're going to be there," Pryor said. "I let him down. I said it to him after the game, 'I hope you forgive me, I'll make sure I'm there next time.' That one, it's not on Sam and I wish it could go on a stat for me. That was a tough one for me and I'm still thinking about that right now. All I keep thinking about is that play."
Pryor played quarterback in the league for five years, so he can appreciate why Darnold stood in front of the media and took the blame for the interceptions. Leaders take the heat even when it's not their fault. The Jets once had a quarterback (he shall remain nameless) who pulled reporters aside and dished on how his receivers hung him out to dry by running bad routes. Pryor's public display of faith, echoed throughout the locker room, should be remembered as a key moment in the education of Darnold.
"He did great," Pryor said. "He's going to be a great player for a long time. He's such a talent, just working with him. God, I wish I could have that play. I think I could have at least made it incomplete. He works too hard. We got to work hard, too. I let him down on that play."
Pryor wasn't the only one, of course. There were dropped passes (by Pryor and rookie Chris Herndon), a fumble (Robby Anderson) and killer defensive penalties (Morris Claiborne and Buster Skrine). There was no running game and there was a defensive brain cramp on third-and-19.
If the Jets want to make anything of their season, they'll need to support Darnold a lot better than they did in their home opener. Coach Todd Bowles knows what he got into when he named Darnold his starting quarterback -- see: rookie roller coaster -- but that doesn't mean the whole season has to be sacrificed.
"We can win the game a bunch of other ways," Bowles said. "It's not just placed on the quarterback."
Thursday night will say a lot about the Jets. The circumstances are difficult -- third game in 11 days -- but the opponent has won only once in its past 34 games. This could be the Browns' Super Bowl. The Jets don't want to be that team.
Defensive end Leonard Williams already can hear the grumbling in New York, with disappointed fans jumping off the bandwagon. He offered this message:
"Even after our first game, that big win [against Detroit], Sam threw that [pick-six] and I already heard fans, 'Oh, here we go again,'" Williams said. "Us, on the sideline, we were like, 'We can do it. Let's fix this. Let's go, let's go, let's go.'
"We feel the same way right now. Of course, there will be doubters. People have always been against us. We don't mind that. We know who we are. We're ready to get after it."
So, based on Williams' logic, Sunday's loss was just one big pick-six and now they will show their resilience against the Browns. They have a lot of cleaning up to do, but at least they have a quarterback they believe in.
"He's going to continue to grow," guard Brian Winters said. "He's young, but I believe in him. I'm going to ride with him."