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Jets' Darnold paid close attention to Cousins' free agency

(AP Photo/Rick Osentoski, File)

By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.

AP Pro Football Writer

NEW YORK (AP) Sam Darnold was uncertain where his NFL career would begin while he was preparing for the draft.

The former Southern California quarterback also was keeping tabs on what team Kirk Cousins would choose in free agency. Darnold knew Cousins' situation would likely affect his future.

"I was really just paying attention, especially during that time," Darnold said Monday during a conference call. "Definitely paying attention to Kirk, what he was doing free agent-wise and trying to understand what team I could maybe go to, who might pick me up.

"Yeah, I was definitely thinking about all that stuff during the draft process."

The New York Jets went after Cousins in March and made the former Washington quarterback a big-time offer. Instead, Cousins chose to sign with Minnesota, getting a fully guaranteed three-year contract worth $84 million.

The Jets then turned their attention to the draft, pulling off a trade with Indianapolis to move up to the No. 3 spot and secure one of the top quarterbacks available. After Cleveland took Baker Mayfield and the Giants went with Saquon Barkley, the Jets knew they had their guy.

"Yeah," Darnold said, "everything worked out for the best, I think."

No doubt about it, as far as New York is concerned.

Darnold has shown steady progress during his first six NFL games, helping the Jets to a 3-3 start. His best game might have come Sunday, when he went 24 of 30 for 280 yards and two touchdowns with one interception in a 42-34 victory over Indianapolis .

"I felt like I kind of took what the defense gave me, but at the same time took the shots when they were there," he said. "So I thought I played really well, and my completion percentage was up, which is a good thing."

He had ranked near the bottom of the league in that category, as well as quarterback rating. Darnold is at 59.8 percent on his completions, which is still among the lowest, while his 83.7 rating is in the middle of the pack.

"For me, every week it's the poise in the pocket," coach Todd Bowles said. "And, the breaking of the huddle, the adjustments that he has to make, the audibles he has to make and doing the right things and it's slowing down for him. And just doing that the right way, and he was pretty good at it (Sunday)."

Darnold will get a chance to do it again next Sunday, and this time against Cousins and the Vikings at MetLife Stadium.

Not that he feels any added pressure going up against the guy who was the Jets' top target in free agency.

"No, not at all," he said. "For me, I'm just going out there every single week, treating it as a faceless opponent and knowing what they do defensively, knowing what they do well, maybe what they don't do so well and just attacking them.

"Like I've said before, take what they give me, but at the same time take the shots when they're there."

Meanwhile, the Vikings are 3-2-1 with Cousins , who is fourth in the NFL with 1,921 yards passing to go along with 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions.

"He's a good player," Bowles said. "He's always been a good player. He was a good player in Washington, he's a good player in Minnesota. So, he's somebody we've got to deal with, he's a tough one."

Several Jets players have said they didn't necessarily pay attention to the team's interest in Cousins during the offseason. And they and the coaches insist they aren't approaching this as some sort of revenge game to show the veteran quarterback what he turned down.

"It's never disappointing in free agency," Bowles said. "Even though you have a chance at somebody, that doesn't guarantee you anybody. So you just move on, and always have a plan A, B, C and D. So you just move on to the next phase of the plan."

For the Jets, that was Darnold.

And, so far, so good.

"It's been a fun process," Darnold said. "Now that we've had a few Sundays in a row where we can just kind of walk in on our routine, it's really fun to be able to understand it and kind of just go about it throughout the week. I feel like I've definitely been getting a lot better as the weeks have kind of compiled."

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Updated October 15, 2018

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