The Jets notched their first victory of the season Sunday, a 24-22 thriller over the Cowboys. Here are some thoughts and observations from the game:
1. This was exactly what the Jets hoped to see from Sam Darnold this season. He made some tremendous throws, had command of the offense and showed a ton of poise. By no means is Darnold a finished product. There are going to be plenty of bad games in his future. The Jets must build around him with a better offensive line and improved skill position players. Adam Gase needs to develop him and give him the right play calls. There are many things that go into being a good quarterback in the NFL.
But the foundation is there.
That was reaffirmed Sunday. Some of the throws Darnold made in this game were plain special. He does things that can’t be taught. He has rare instincts. It is what separates him from someone like Mark Sanchez, who never had the feel inside the pocket that Darnold shows.
His first throw of the game to Demaryius Thomas was a beautiful throw on a crossing route for 17 yards. On the next drive, he delivered what I thought was his best throw of the game, a touch pass down the sideline to Jamison Crowder for a 24-yard gain on third-and-4. The throw was perfect.
On that 14-play drive, Darnold got everyone involved, throwing to six different receivers.
Darnold’s absence underscored some of the little things he does, too, that someone like Luke Falk struggles with. He found checkdown receivers to avoid sacks, helping the offensive line. He was able to move inside the pocket ever so slightly to extend a play and give the receiver one more second to get open. He moves defensive players with his eyes.
Again, not every game is going to go as well as Sunday’s for Darnold. Look around the league at some of the highly drafted quarterbacks who had rough days on Sunday – Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Jared Goff and Baker Mayfield to name a few. Darnold will have days where you question whether he is legit. But days like Sunday should remind you that he has the tools to be a special quarterback.
2. As the Cowboys were marching down the field on their final drive with pass interference flags flying everywhere, you had to be thinking about all the games this team has blown in recent years and how this felt like another. You only had to think back to Week 1 when they blew the 16-point lead against the Bills. Or you could go back to last year when games against the Packers, Texans, Titans and Browns were all squandered late. Those with longer memories will think back two years ago when games against the Panthers, Falcons and Dolphins looked like wins … until they morphed into they-did-it-again losses.
I don’t know if Sunday’s win over the Cowboys will end the trend of the Jets blowing games in the fourth quarter, but it has to be an encouraging sign. The Jets had to answer the Cowboys in the fourth quarter after Ezekiel Elliott’s touchdown made it 21-16 and they did with a 38-yard field goal from Sam Ficken. The defense had to make a stand on the two-point conversion try and it did with Jamal Adams blitzing up the middle and into Dak Prescott’s face.
The Jets have lost so many of these games recently that a win like Sunday’s felt big for the psyche of this team. I have been in so many Jets postgame locker rooms where the theme was “we didn’t finish.” On Sunday, they finished.
3. No one was saying this publicly, but behind closed doors the Jets knew they had to get Robby Anderson going on Sunday or risk losing him mentally. Anderson clearly was frustrated with his lack of production through the first four weeks. It was not his fault he was not getting the ball. The Jets simply did not have the firepower with Falk at quarterback to use Anderson’s downfield ability.
That was probably on the mind of Gase entering the game and why he pounced on the chance to go deep in the second quarter after his defense mounted a fourth-down stop. The play worked beautifully with a play-action fake from Darnold and a double-move by Anderson to get past the Dallas defense and on the way to a 92-yard touchdown.
Anderson was smiling after the touchdown. He had his quarterback back and was productive again.
4. Jamal Adams draws a lot of praise and attention, much of it warranted, but it sometimes overshadows his fellow safety Marcus Maye. Maye is Robin to Adams’ Batman and the duo has been dynamic so far this season.
The story around Maye entering the season was about whether he could stay healthy after missing most of last season. So far, Maye has not only been able to stay on the field, he has played at a high level on it. He had five tackles and a pass defensed on Sunday. Some of those tackles were huge.
In the first quarter, he stopped Ezekiel Elliott on an outside run. It looked like a pulling Travis Frederick was going to run over Maye, but he avoided the block and cut Elliott down. There was nothing behind Maye except green turf and it could have been a touchdown if he did not make the tackle.
He stopped Elliott again a few plays later when the running back took a pass from Prescott 16 yards and again Maye was the last line of defense.
Maye is a strong tackler and has been the deep man in the middle in a Gregg Williams defense that has allowed only two passes of 40 yards or more this season.
Revealing stat: Darnold averaged 10.6 yards per pass attempt. The Jets attacked the Cowboys all day long with mid-range and deep passes.
Surprising snap count: Kyle Phillips got 41 snaps on defense. The undrafted rookie from Tennessee has emerged as a key piece of the defensive line rotation. Gregg Williams loves his smarts and his versatility. Phillips had seven tackles, one for a loss and a quarterback hit in the game.
Game ball: Not getting cute here. Darnold breathed life into the team. He threw for 338 yards, his second-highest total as a pro. The Jets looked like they had an NFL offense again thanks to Darnold.