Sam Darnold Says Jets Won't Take Patriots Lightly Despite Tom Brady's Exit

Megan ArmstrongSenior Analyst IIMay 5, 2020

New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold warms up before an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

The New England Patriots have won the AFC East for the last 11 seasons behind future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady

Brady departed New England for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March as a free agent for the first time in his 20-year NFL career, but New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold is not using that as an excuse to overlook the new-look Patriots.

"With a great player like Tom Brady, obviously leaving is a big deal," Darnold said, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. "It's headlines. For us, every single game in the NFL is a tough one and I think any player can attest to that. So, we're not going to take anyone more lightly even though one of the greatest players—if not the greatest player—of all-time left the organization. We're not going to take them any more lightly."

Darnold is 0-2 against the Patriots since the Jets made him the third overall pick in the 2018 draft (h/t Pro Football Reference).

The Jets last captured the AFC East in 2002—Darnold was born in 1997—and last made the playoffs in 2010.

According to Caesars Sportsbook, the Bills and Patriots are equally favored at +120 (bet $100 to win $120) to win the AFC East with New York and Miami each at +800.

"We definitely have the guys to be able to win football games," Darnold added. "But as we see every year, it's about putting everything together. Right now, we still got a long way to go."

Last season proved that. The Jets made a splash in free agency in March 2019 by signing All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell to a four-year, $52.5 million contract. But Bell vastly underperformed behind an inconsistent offensive line, and Darnold missed three games with mononucleosis. New York finished 7-9.

The Jets used their 11th overall pick on former Louisville offensive tackle Mekhi Becton, a second-round selection on former Baylor wide receiver Denzel Mims and a fifth-rounder on former Virginia cornerback Bryce Hall, among others, in last month's draft.

Those additions look promising on paper, but the Jets have the second-strongest 2020 schedule based on opponents' 2019 combined record (136-119-1), per CBS Sports' John Breech.

Darnold has as much to prove as anybody on the roster. The 22-year-old USC product has gone 11-15 across his first two seasons as the Jets' starter with 5,889 yards, 36 touchdowns and 28 interceptions on just 59.9 percent accuracy.