Jets threading needle between Darnold growth, draft position

This is a game only the diehards could love.

The 4-10 Jets face the 5-8-1 Packers in a game that is relevant only when it comes to next spring’s draft. There should be plenty of empty seats at MetLife Stadium for the final home game of this miserable Jets season against another team going nowhere this season.

The good news is the season is almost over. The Jets get one step closer to the finish line against Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay. The sparse crowd could be mainly Packers fans donning their cheeseheads and cheering for the visitors.

About the only thing left for Jets fans to watch is rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, who has improved over the past two weeks after missing three games with a foot injury. Darnold has three touchdown passes and one interception in the previous two games. He has led two fourth-quarter comebacks, though his defense could not hold the lead against the Texans, and has shown more poise than before the injury.

It appears Darnold benefited from the time on the bench.

“I didn’t want the time off, I wanted to keep going, I wanted to keep getting experience,” Darnold said. “But that’s what happened. I felt like for me, I truly believe everything happens for a reason.”

One guy who does not want time off is Rodgers. The 35-year-old injured his groin last week in a loss to the Bears. There was some question early in the week if he would play against the Jets, but he declared himself ready to play.

“I’m super-competitive,” Rodgers said, “and I want to be out there with the guys, and I look forward to being out there.”

Darnold spoke glowingly about Rodgers this week, saying he has studied the way he plays.

“It’s almost like he knows what the defense is going to do before the snap,” Darnold said. “For him, it looks so easy and so effortless. He has probably the best on arm talent that I’ve ever seen, debatably in NFL history. He’s just really gifted throwing the football but on top of that he’s also super smart, so we got our hands full with him.”

The only other thing Jets fans will be paying attention to in this one is how it affects their position in the draft. They enter this game in the No. 3 spot behind the Cardinals and Raiders. If they beat the Packers, who are 1-1 under interim coach Joe Philbin, that will end any hope they have of getting the No. 1-overall pick and probably push them out of the top five.

For Jets fans, seeing Darnold play well in a loss is probably what they are wishing for.

Marquee Matchup

Packers WR Davante Adams vs. Jets cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Morris Claiborne

Another week, another tough matchup for the Jets’ secondary. Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins torched them for 170 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner, last week. Now, they get Adams, who is tied for fourth in the NFL with 100 catches, and has 1,315 receiving yards to go along with 12 touchdowns.

“He’ll be almost similar to Hopkins last week,” coach Todd Bowles said. “They use him a lot. He’s all over the place. You don’t know where he’s going to line up at. They trust him. They have great chemistry. He has great hands. He’s got great speed. It will be another tough challenge.”

The Jets’ secondary has been inconsistent this season. They have had some big games forcing turnovers and then other games where they give up huge plays.

“Up and down, just like a lot of positions,” Bowles said of his defensive backs. “We’ve made some plays and gotten some turnovers. We’ve given up some plays that we shouldn’t have given up.”

Four Downs

After Aaron: The Jets should be able to pressure Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay has allowed 46 sacks this year, which ranks 28th in the league. Rodgers is also dealing with a groin injury that should slow him down further. The Jets got after Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson last week, sacking him six times.

“He’s surprisingly elusive,” said Jordan Jenkins, who leads the Jets with seven sacks. “He fakes that he’s going to pass and guys will jump. He eludes so many sacks just by doing that. He’s so good at it. … He spins out of sacks. I’m definitely trying to get after him and get as close to 10 sacks as I can. Also, when your last two games are against Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, that’s motivation alone to try to get a sack on one of them just to say you sacked one of the GOATs.”

Road woe-iors: The Packers come to New Jersey seeking their first road win of the season, a fact that is hard to believe. Green Bay has lost nine in a row on the road, dating back to last year. They are 0-7 away from Lambeau Field in 2018. This would be the first winless road season for the Packers since 1958 if they can’t win Sunday. The Jets are 2-5 at home this year.

“Yeah, I think it’s important for us to not be a statistic next to the [1958] Packers,” Rodgers said. “It’s disappointing. It’s frustrating. It would be good for our confidence and for the young guys to feel what that post-win locker room, bus ride, plane flight back feels like, and take it with us in the future.”

Draw the line: The Jets’ offensive line has shown improvement in recent weeks, and that has helped Sam Darnold. They played well against a tough Texans front last week. They ended up allowing three sacks, but two came in the game’s final minutes when it was clear the Jets were in desperation mode. They have opened up some rushing holes, too. Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates credits the line with allowing Darnold to run more.

“I think our line has been doing a really good job lately protecting and giving him lanes,” Bates said. “It all starts up front. With them, how they’ve played the last couple, weeks of giving him the opportunity to push, slide and find creases.”

Robby rising: Wide receiver Robby Anderson has emerged over the past few weeks, showing a newfound chemistry with Darnold. Anderson has scored touchdowns in each of the last two games, both on broken plays where Darnold had to scramble.

“He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now and like I said earlier I am too,” Darnold said of Anderson. “So it’s just, not that the other guys aren’t, if I do scramble or fly around I feel like I’m just kind of finding him. I don’t want to say it’s a coincidence because we both work really hard on our crafts but I’m just finding him and he’s just happening to get open a lot.”

Costello’s Call

This one looked like a mismatch in August, but the Packers have struggled mightily this season and now have an interim coach. Jets fans who want a better draft pick don’t want to hear this, but the Jets pull it out on a Jason Myers’ fourth-quarter field goal.

Jets 24, Packers 21

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