There was a specific moment when Josh McCown realized Sam Darnold had a chance to be special — or at least the ability to survive, and those two qualities might actually be the same.
McCown was on the sidelines as the Jets' backup quarterback when Darnold's first pass as a professional player was intercepted and returned 37 yards for a touchdown against the Lions.
"Heck of a way to start your career, man. I mean, you didn't even make the tackle," McCown told the rookie as he walked past, trying to lighten the mood.
"He just laughed, kind of smiled, and shrugged it off," McCown recalled. "To me, the thing that stands out about Sam is his ability to move onto the next thing.
"When you're in a tough circumstance, the ability to move onto the next thing gets harder and harder. But Sam has the ability to make that look easy."
Suffice it to say, the circumstance Darnold got through the last three years was a tough one. Being a Jet is one thing, landing with an organization which hasn't made the playoffs since 2010, an organization which has lost a hundred games more than it has won (410-514-8), and become a punchline for reasons well-documented and well-earned.
And having been drafted third overall to save such a franchise, after a brief-but-bright career at Southern Cal, the weight of expectations can be crushing. That's especially true if you're thin-skinned, or undisciplined, or not accustomed to the attention that's coming whether you want it or not.
But with Monday's trade that brought Darnold to the Panthers, those who know him think the chance to reset his professional career, to come to a place where the lights don't shine as brightly — and where there are actual players to join him on offense — will allow him to flourish.