LANDOVER, Md. — Sam Darnold had a career-high four touchdown passes, looked terrific against an admittedly imperfect team and stacked back-to-back strong performances to give the Jets their first two-game winning streak of the season.
But like any quarterback who aspires to greatness, it was the one thing he messed up that stayed with him most after Sunday’s 34-17 win over the Redskins.
The Jets were up 13-0 in the second quarter, their offense was humming, and Darnold lined up on second-and-18 after a holding penalty pushed them back to their own 37-yard line. Darnold faded back in the pocket and was about to throw a short pass to Le’Veon Bell, but the running back was covered.
“It was a screen, and I was going to dirt it,” said Darnold, explaining that he was about to throw it at Bell’s feet to purposely throw an incompletion.
Then he looked downfield.
“I felt like something popped free,” Darnold said.
Ty Montgomery was cutting from left to right over the middle and Darnold decided to take a chance. But just as he got rid of the ball, Redskins linebacker Jon Bostic stepped in front of Montgomery and picked off the pass, returning it to the Jets’ 16.
“It was just a really bad play,” Darnold lamented afterward. “I was thinking too much. I was just thinking way too much.”
As it turned out, it was the only misstep for the second-year quarterback, who was 19-for-30 passing for 293 yards, with the four TDs and the interception.
What will he remember more, the four scoring passes or the pick?
“Towards the end of the game, I was talking more about the interception to the coaches and to the other players, so maybe that,” he said.
But Darnold was willing to accept credit for a mostly splendid performance, even if it was against a 1-9 team that has been embarrassingly bad through nearly the entire season. He hit seldom-used tight end Daniel Brown for a 20-yard TD in the left corner of the end zone in the first quarter, found Robby Anderson in the right corner of the end zone on a 6-yard score in the second quarter, had a 16-yard TD strike to tight end Ryan Griffin later in the second and a 29-yarder to former Redskins receiver Jamison Crowder in the fourth.
“I think for us as an offense as a whole, it’s just another steppingstone in the right direction,” Darnold said.
Over his last two games he has five touchdown passes and a rushing TD, and just the one interception from Sunday. It’s a far cry from his meltdown of the previous three weeks, when he had a combined three scoring passes, eight interceptions and two fumbles.
Some of it has to do with the opposition; the last two wins have come against the Giants and Redskins, who have a combined record of 3-17. But give Darnold his props. He has gathered himself after a midseason crisis and responded with some legitimately strong play.
“I think we’re really getting a feel for the offense, just getting that rhythm, being able to understand exactly what’s going on, and that allows us to play a lot faster,” he said. “I think it’s on us to go out there and execute and we’ve been able to do that the last couple weeks.”
It was Washington rookie Dwayne Haskins who was swimming in quarterback mistakes on Sunday, and as someone who has been there, done that, Darnold offered some assurances to the former Ohio State star.
“I just told him after the game to keep his head up, no matter what people say, the doubters, people who are going to say anything bad,” Darnold said he told Haskins, who was sacked six times and intercepted once. “Just block it out. Continue to go to work. If you continue to go to work every single day, it’ll be all right.”
Darnold speaks from experience. It’s still early in the career of the Jets’ 22-year-old starter, but there has been enough evidence to suggest there can be more days like this.
Yes, the interception will stay with him, mostly because he should have known better. But there’s no denying the four touchdown passes were critical in the Jets' second straight win, and it was the first time Darnold has enjoyed that feeling in more than a year.
He’ll take it.
The Jets play NFC East opponents once every four years, but Sam Darnold wouldn’t mind seeing them more often. He had a field day in going 3-0 against the Redskins, Giants and Cowboys this season. His totals:
Completion percentage: 66.3
QB rating: 112.6