Slingin’ Sammy Darnold took down Andrew Luck last Sunday, and there will be joy in Jetville this Sunday if he can bring the house down on $84 million man Kirk Cousins and the Vikings with a third straight victory that would officially announce the Jets as heavyweight contenders.
Cousins could have had these Jets fans as his own, but saw himself as the last piece to the Vikings’ Super Bowl puzzle instead and chose not to take the money from Bros. Johnson. Now young Darnold gets the chance to show Cousins there is no better place to win than New York.
MetLife Stadium will explode with exhilaration if young Darnold can raise his game and lift the Jets to 4-3 against the most formidable defense he has confronted as a precocious rookie since the Jaguars schooled him three weeks ago.
It would be a veritable mini-miracle.
These aren’t the modern-day Purple People Eaters, but Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has fixed his defense’s early-season problems since Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen (going 15-for-22 for 196 yards with a passing touchdown and a rushing TD) shocked the Vikings, 27-6, as 16¹/₂-point underdogs Week 3 in Minnesota, on a day Cousins threw 55 passes.
Darnold is more advanced than Allen, but Jets coach Todd Bowles and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates will need him to figure out how to play his best overall game here and now, somehow without wide receivers Quincy Enunwa and Terrelle Pryor.
The Kid may even have no other choice than to engage Cousins in a shootout.
“Sam is still a work in progress,” Jets cornerback Morris Claiborne told The Post. “Like what you’re seeing right now is just splashes of greatness.
“Once he puts it all together, he’s gonna be up there with the Tom Bradys for sure.”
Even phenoms fall victim to growing pains, and no one should expect anything close to a repeat of the Jets’ 323-yard rushing demolition of the Broncos against the league’s ninth-best run defense — especially with Isaiah Crowell struggling to wipe his ailing foot with the football, placing more of a burden on Bilal Powell. And on right tackle Brandon Shell blocking defensive end Danielle Hunter (seven sacks).
“I think it’s important to stop the run, force him to make plays with the ball in his hand,” Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr said this week. “Obviously he’s very equipped to do so. Good arm, great athlete, smart with the football. He’ll take his chances. But I think they’re at their best when they run the ball well, so it will be important for us to focus on that, and then we can try to get after the quarterback a little bit.”
Cousins, meanwhile, is 101-of-135 for 1,148 yards with eight TDs and one INT in three road games, and there is no New York Sack Exchange to remind anyone of Joe Klecko, Marty Lyons, Mark Gastineau and Abdul Salaam.
Bowles and defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers will look to their takeaway defense (10 INTs, five fumble recoveries) and Cousins’ propensity to fumble — he has already lost five this season and 20 for his career. Claiborne is familiar with Cousins from the cornerback’s days in Dallas.
“He’s one of those guys who likes to take what the defense gives him,” Claiborne said. “He’s not gonna try to be greedy. He’s gonna try to get that pass percentage up, and get the ball out quick. But when he’s rolling, he’s rolling.”
If he’s rolling, if he’s rolling with the prolific Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs against this depleted Jets secondary, then it will become more urgent for Darnold to get his team in the end zone so Jason Myers isn’t summoned to kick seven field goals again. “We can’t settle for field goals,” Bates said.
No one believes the 3-3 Jets are really for real.
Not this year.
Not with a rookie quarterback.
Cousins is the one who carries the weight of great expectations on his shoulders.
“He just made the decision that was best for him,” Claiborne said.
Imagine if Slingin’ Sammy Darnold in concert with all of MetLife Stadium can start to make him regret it.