FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Sam Darnold appeared destined to go to Cleveland in the months leading up to the NFL draft.
Then, the Browns called an audible along the way and went instead with Baker Mayfield at No. 1 overall. After the Giants took Saquon Barkley next, the New York Jets ended up with the quarterback they wanted all along and Darnold was headed to the Big Apple.
"I thought I could've been there or several other teams," Darnold said Monday. "I honestly haven't even thought about it since I got drafted by the Jets. With (Cleveland) having the (No.) 1 pick, I guess there was a good chance I might have gone there, so I was thinking about it before. But ever since the draft, I haven't thought about it."
On Thursday night, Darnold will be in Cleveland. But as the enemy — and a reminder to Browns fans of who they might have had.
Not that Darnold, who'll be making his third NFL start, has revenge or redemption on his mind.
"No, I'm just going to go out there and play ball," he said.
Darnold has much more pressing matters at hand, such as trying to bounce back from a 20-12 loss to Miami on Sunday .
The No. 3 overall pick struggled at times with some missed opportunities and mistakes, as did the rest of the Jets. But Darnold also had some positive moments, and at 21 years and 103 days old became the youngest player to throw for 300 yards. He finished with 334 yards passing with one touchdown and two interceptions.
"Other than the two picks, I thought I played pretty well," Darnold said. "So, I'm just going to continue to try to play as consistent as possible and find completions when I can and take shots when I can."
Meanwhile, Mayfield hasn't yet taken a regular-season snap for the Browns with Tyrod Taylor as the starter. The former Oklahoma star is considered the future of the franchise for Cleveland — a label that appeared reserved for Darnold.
"I was excited to go anywhere," Darnold said. "Whoever wanted me, whoever wanted to pick me. As a top pick, it was a dream come true right when it happened. I wasn't concerned with who was picking me, but more with where I was going and where I might need to spend the next, for now, three or four years."
The Jets envision Darnold being around for a lot longer than that, and Thursday will serve as the next test — and step — in the young quarterback's development.
The Browns are still winless since 2016, but they have a tie and a three-point loss through the first two games so they're no pushovers.
Gregg Williams' defense has already caused problems for the likes of Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and New Orleans' Drew Brees, and could be licking its chops to face a rookie at home in front of the Dawg Pound.
"First of all, I think his guys are ready to play every single game," Darnold said. "They come out fiery and at the same time, they bring pressures that, sometimes, no one's ever seen before. We're going to be ready. I'm focused on what we're doing, but also on what the defense is doing and how we can attack them."
The Jets and Darnold will have to do a better job than they did for much of the game against the Dolphins. New York was just 3 of 10 on third downs, including 1 of 8 in the first half when it fell behind 20-0.
This will be the third game in just 11 days for the Jets, no easy task for a rookie QB. Darnold recognizes that this week's preparation will be condensed even more than last week, when New York was coming off a Monday night game in the opener.
"It's a different challenge, something I haven't necessarily dealt with, but it's awesome," Darnold said. "It's just another challenge for this team and we're going to take it head on. Looking at Cleveland last night, it was moving on right after that game. We watched that game and then got right to Cleveland. Not the final score that we wanted. Obviously, we looked to come out of there with a win, but move on as fast as possible and get to Cleveland because it's a short turnaround."
NOTES: TE Neal Sterling (concussion), S Marcus Maye (foot) and LB Josh Martin (concussion) did not practice, although it was more of a walkthrough session. LT Kelvin Beachum (foot) and LG James Carpenter (foot) were limited. … Jets coach Todd Bowles said he liked what he saw from Mayfield while going through the draft process. "I thought he was he gritty," Bowles said. "Had a great workout when we worked him out. I think he's a tough player and he's going to be a good player." … WR ArDarius Stewart returned from his two-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancers. The Jets have until 4 p.m. Wednesday to make a decision on whether to activate or release him.
Source: The Associated Press