When Adam Gase took over as the Jets head coach at the beginning of last year, Sam Darnold already had one NFL season under his belt at quarterback.
On paper, it was a quality match. An offensive-minded head coach with experience in the AFC East joining forces with a franchise quarterback and former No. 3 overall pick entering his sophomore season.
The expectation was that Darnold and Gase would blossom alongside one another, taking Gang Green back to contention. Instead, less than two full seasons later, the duo's breakup appears to be imminent.
What remains, as the Jets attempt to avoid a winless season in 2020, is a question that fans will ask for years to come: what went wrong?
Before practice on Thursday, Gase opened up about the situation, admitting that it was his responsibility to help Darnold realize his potential with the Jets. Out of nowhere, the head coach owned up to this organization's inability to develop Darnold.
"I came here to help him, help him develop his career and we haven't been able to do that," Gase said in a Zoom call with reporters. "I haven't done a good enough job."
After another miserable loss this past Sunday, Gase is now 7-20 calling the shots in New York. Darnold, over three years, has an 11-22 record at quarterback.
Based on his performance against Miami coming off his latest injury—a loss that featured multiple questionable decisions that turned into costly interceptions—Darnold seems to be regressing.
"That's why every game is so important," Gase added. "Keep trying to help him grow, keep trying to help him develop and see things the way that he needs to see him and play the way that I've seen him play in certain games."
Through seven winless games this season, Darnold is the NFL's lowest-rated quarterback with a 64.0 passer rating. He's last among qualifying quarterbacks in yards per game (177.4) and QBR (36.7) with a total of eight interceptions in seven games played. The USC product hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since Sept. 27.
Gase prefaced that Darnold's struggles aren't the quarterback's fault.
"You do need 10 other guys to do their job as well," he said. "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 ... It's on all of us."
That includes momentum swings during any given game—like a dropped pass or blown assignment on the offensive line—that fail to lift Darnold into his best position to succeed.
Factor in unexpected lost time, due to injuries and a pandemic, and the odds have consistently been stacked against this 23-year-old. To Gase, however, that hasn't changed Darnold's work ethic or mental fortitude. At least, he doesn't show it.
"The fact that he keeps coming to work grinding, trying to try to fix the things that he has to, I've been impressed with his work ethic. It's phenomenal," Gase said. "He's trying to get things as right as he possibly can, create that chemistry as much as possible.
"At 23, that's probably way harder than what he portrays. But if he's worried about anything he doesn't show it. He does a good job of staying focused on working on his job."
With five weeks remaining this season, it's possible Darnold can flip the script and finish on a high note. He'll have all of New York's starting wide receivers at his disposal for a second straight week, and second time this year, for Sunday's showdown with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Gase said it's undoubtedly frustrating for Darnold to have to take care of business while hearing that his organization will look to draft a player at his position after this season. If New York can go on to secure the first overall selection in the 2021 NFL draft, presumptive top pick Clemson's Trevor Lawrence will be available for the taking.
At the end of the day, the onus falls on Gase. He hopes to make a difference before the end of the year. Except that may end up being too late.
"I have to just keep trying to help him, keep trying to help our staff put together good game plans, we just keep trying to work as hard as we possibly can to put him in the best position possible."