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How Jets fans should feel after a Sam Darnold reality check

The thing is, you knew better. Of course you did. You are a Jets fan, and so you are always on the lookout for dark clouds (even though there was nary a one of them in the sky on a textbook Sunday afternoon) and bad omens (even though there were no reports of black cats, tipped salt shakers or broken mirrors littering the parking lots).

You are always loath to trust your own faith.

“I want to take a deep breath and pace myself,” one of you, a teacher named Greg McKinney, said in the middle of Parking Lot G, which resembled Day 3 at Woodstock an hour before kickoff, the loud music blaring, the cold beer flowing and everyone looking perfectly giddy, filled with peace, love and a fresh memory of opening night.

McKinney laughed as he ducked out of the way of a stray hacky sack.

“But I can’t pace myself,” he said. “I’m excited. So shoot me.”

This is either the pity of what happened across the next couple of hours, or the prescience of it. It’s been a good, long while since the True Green Believers were out in such force, with such vehemence, carrying such hope. Somewhere, deep in their souls, they had to know this was possible — maybe even likely — this buzzkill of a 20-12 loss to the Dolphins.

“Lots of missed opportunities,” Sam Darnold said. “Lots of plays you wish you could have back.”

The biggest opportunity was a virtual balloon that burst as the Dolphins were cruising to a 20-0 first-half lead, as the Jets started slowly and turned the ball over a couple of times, a pick and a fumble that led to two touchdowns.

Whatever hope remained was vacuumed clean when a quick burst of a drive was halted at the Miami 1-yard line at the end of the first half, and a Darnold pick in the Dolphins end zone that muffled whatever momentum they were building early in the second.

“It hurts, because we saw how into this game everyone was,” safety Jamal Adams said. “It was so electric out there.”

It was, in truth, a welcome sight, watching a batch of local fans so completely embrace the brief taste of prosperity they’d been given six days earlier. Mets fans have moped across the summer. Yankees fans can’t stop booing a team that’s still on pace to win 100 games. The lone consolation for most area hockey fans is that they aren’t area basketball fans. And the Giants laid an egg in their first home game last week.

So in one of those remarkable quirks of the universe that happen every once in a while, the Jets actually had the happiest and most excited fan base in town this week. And look: There’s still plenty of reason for you to keep your emotional investment in the team. Darnold threw for 334 yards and didn’t have a particularly good game. The defense swarmed Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill most of the day.

“We’re close,” receiver Quincy Enunwa said, more than once.

Close to what? Not a title. Probably not the playoffs. But that’s one of the reasons it was so splendid to see the mob scene at MetLife Sunday afternoon, when it felt like 75,000 of the 77,982 were there by 9 o’clock, setting up shop and giving the joint a big-game feel when logic and reason tells you this team is still a full year, maybe two, from actually playing in a legitimately big game.

Sometimes the climb can be every bit as fun as the climax, if you let it.

“It’s another learning experience,” said Darnold, whose No. 14 jersey was easily the most popular vestment among most of the faithful on Sunday. “Every loss — whether it’s a game or a play — I take it as a lesson I can learn.”

The thing about being in such an early stage of rebuilding is that there are few games the Jets as a team can point to and describe them as devastating. Could they have won this? Sure. Should they have? Probably. But it’s not like it’s going to cost them home-field down the road. It should be that way for the fans, too. Of course the drive home Sunday was miserable. Of course the water-cooler talk will be filled with spasms of bitterness.

But you knew better. The Jets aren’t as good as they looked in Week 1. They aren’t as hapless as they looked for long stretches of Week 2. If you saw 7-9 or 6-10 at the start, you probably haven’t changed your mind. And I think you should still be excited. So shoot me.

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