It was an important second season in the NFL for Sam Darnold, the New York Jets franchise quarterback. In the eyes of Chad Pennington, one of the best quarterbacks in franchise history, Darnold showed signs of growth and development over the second half of the season.
And while the first half of the season was a challenge for Darnold, including missing from Week 2 through Week 4 due to illness, steps forward were made by last year’s first round pick.
Darnold saw an increase in throwing yards, upped his touchdowns, lowered his interceptions and bettered his completion percentage in 2019. In addition, he took a significant step forward during the second half of the season, cutting his turnovers back and leading the Jets to a 6-2 record over the final eight games of the season.
His growth over the final eight games was a major reason why the Jets finished at 7-9, their best record since 2015.
“I have seen progress and I think where I’ve seen it most…in decision making, consistency in the decision making and really starting to learn when I can take a chance with the football and when I can’t. Those type of things,” Pennington told SportsIllustrated.com.
“Not trying to do much. I have liked his progress - as far as him dealing with mono maybe [that] set him back a little bit. But the last half of the season, I really like what he’s done throwing the football, his accuracy down the field and just how he’s progressed as a young quarterback.”
The uptick from Darnold comes after a disappointing start to the year. Not only did the Jets start the season 1-7, but Darnold struggled with turnovers. He famously was caught by cameras on the sideline during a 33-0 home loss to the New England Patriots that he was seeing “ghosts” – a reference to the opposing defense confusing him with coverages.
Even as the losses mounted, Darnold kept a good public persona. He didn’t cave into the criticism or doubters who saw regression from his rookie season, something that Pennington sees as another sign of the young quarterback maturing.
“He does a really good job of staying even-keeled. You don’t see him get too high emotionally or see him sink too low. And quite frankly, he’s honest about his performance, he’s honest about what he sees and what he doesn’t see,” Pennington said.
“Unfortunately, people prey on that but I really like his realism and where he is. I think that’s going to work out well for him.
Pennington spent eight years with the Jets and was their first round pick in 2000. He twice was the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year winner.