No reason to rush Sam Darnold back

It was something the Jets can be thankful for: The sight of Sam Darnold on the practice field Wednesday with a helmet on his head. He did stretching exercises and agility drills while the media was able to observe the early minutes of practice. Apparently, he didn’t do much else, though, as he was listed as “Did Not Practice” on the injury report.

Todd Bowles was coy when asked if Darnold might be able to start Sunday’s game against the Patriots at Met Life Stadium.

“He’s progressing along. We’ll see how he is by Friday,” was all the head coach would say.

This really doesn’t need to be said, but unless Darnold is 100 percent physically and mentally, the Jets should wait until he is before putting the rookie quarterback back in action. Bowles said he would “error on the side of caution,” and you hope he does. There’s no reason for the Jets to chance any type of setback with Darnold. Not even if he’s 75 or 80 percent. The Jets have too much invested in his future to do anything foolish now.

“We’ll see how he progresses,” Bowles said.

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Darnold missed the 41-10 loss to the Bills on Nov. 11, nursing a sprained foot suffered the previous week in a 13-6 setback to the Dolphins. The Jets played so poorly against the Bills, the embattled Jets coaching staff might be eager to get Darnold back in the lineup to salvage as many wins as possible. But it’s the future, not their 3-7 record, the Jets need to be concerned with.

Darnold has gone from wearing a boot to being back on the field, but he isn’t able to practice. That already makes him a long shot to play in his first game against the Patriots. Foot injuries can be tricky. One wrong tweak and the injury could be aggravated, costing him more games.

Darnold also hasn’t had any reps since the injury. He needs practice time before playing. If he were a 10-year vet, perhaps he could step right in after a long absence. But this is a new experience for the 21-year-old first-round draft pick from Southern Cal, and the temptation of doing too much too soon has to be considered.

“As a competitor you always want to go out there and play,” Darnold said. “When you can’t, it sucks. I always want to go out there and play.”

He admitted sitting out games because of an injury to protect his health versus being on the field to help his team is a balance he hasn’t mastered yet.

“Trying to manage those things is the hardest thing for me to understand,” Darnold said. “But I have to stay with the process and continue to work hard every day.”

The decision would be easier if Josh McCown had played better against the Bills. The Jets were an embarrassment, trailing 31-3 at halftime. McCown started for Darnold and looked like a 39-year-old quarterback, who hadn’t played all season. The Jets managed just 199 yards of total offense and converted just 1 of 12 third-down situations. McCown was 17-of-34 for 135 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. His quarterback rating was 35.8.

Still, it might be good for Darnold to sit out another game. He was struggling prior to the injury, having thrown seven interceptions and just two touchdowns in his previous three starts. If he’s on the bench Sunday, he’ll not only get to shadow McCown, but he also may learn something from an up-close and personal view of watching Tom Brady play.

Bottom line, it would be shocking if Darnold starts on Sunday against the Patriots. One of these days, a Darnold-Brady showdown will make sense. It doesn’t this week.

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