EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Nine games into his rookie season, Sam Darnold looked absolutely lost. All the promise he previously showed was gone in a downward spiral. His head was spinning and his play was getting worse.
That's when fate stepped in and left the Jets' newest franchise quarterback with a sprained foot that would keep him sidelined for a month - an injury that turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
There is no doubt that Darnold benefited greatly from his unplanned absence. In the three games before he got hurt, he completed less than 47.2 percent of his passes, averaged 196 passing yards and had thrown seven interceptions. When he returned, he looked like a completely different player.
So why can't the same thing happen to Daniel Jones?
"Yeah, I guess it's an opportunity to do that," Jones said on Wednesday. "Obviously, you want to be playing, and I feel like the best way to learn is to play. But there is an opportunity in learning, watching, and yeah, I'll try to do the best I can to do that."
Clearly this is not what the Giants or Jones had planned. It was fate -- not a conspiracy theory -- that left the 22-year-old with a high ankle sprain that will force him to the sidelines to watch veteran Eli Manning start in Philadelphia on Monday night. The Giants' plan all along was to let Jones learn from his own experience - as much experience as he could get. If they wanted him to sit and watch, they wouldn't have thrust him into the lineup way back in Week 3.
But there is no doubt this could be a good thing in the long run. There's been a marked decline in Jones' play the last two weeks - although to be fair the circumstances (on the road in Chicago, at home in the snow against the Packers) weren't advantageous. In those two games, he completed only 56.1 percent of his passes for just 390 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions.
Fourteen weeks and 10 starts into his first NFL season, it's possible he's hitting the proverbial "rookie wall." So maybe a week or two off, to clear his head, could help.
"Sometimes that's part of the narrative when a young guy plays for a while, then for whatever reason he doesn't play and he comes back," Giants coach Pat Shurmur said. "I think anytime you observe, it's always best when you're playing. But in this case, he's forced to step back, so I think he's going to continue to learn."
Maybe playing is for the best, but sitting and watching certainly worked for Darnold last year. In his first nine starts as a rookie, he completed 55 percent of his passes for 1,934 yards with 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. In the four games after his injury he completed 64 percent of his passes for 931 yards with six touchdown passes and just one interception.
His pre-injury passer rating was 68.3. His post-injury passer rating was 99.1.
"I really do just think it was just watching Josh (McCown, the Jets' backup quarterback)," Darnold said, two games into his return. "Just the way he went about studying the plays that are in the game plan. It's literally everything - walkthrough, practice, how he treated everything. I think it was just awesome to be able to learn and watch him. That's the reason for me playing a little bit better these last couple games."
Now imagine the same thing happening to Jones, and what he might be able to learn from a game or two of watching Manning. Yes, he watched him for the first two games of the season. But now he could watch him with his own knowledge of what it takes to be a starting quarterback. He'd be watching, but he'd have his own experience to use, too.
And remember, despite the last two games, Jones' pre-injury numbers are far better than where Darnold was. He's completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 2,374 yards with 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions (although Darnold only fumbled five times last season, while Jones has already fumbled 15 times, losing 10).
"I think he made tremendous progress," Shurmur said. "He has a very, very bright future. I think that's something we'll talk about when the season is over. There are certainly things and areas that he needs to improve. But he displayed an ability to stand in there tough, make good throws, he got us in the end zone. Unfortunately, as we move along, and I think that's part of his development, some of the mistakes he made, he'll clean up as time goes on."
Maybe watching Manning for a game or two could help him clean those up sooner than later. It certainly couldn't hurt.