We’ll have a much better read on just how good Sam Darnold and Daniel Jones are the next time the Jets and Giants face one another. By the year 2023, when the Giants and Jets next meet in a regular-season game, it will be clear whether they indeed are the right men for the job.
But their first career matchup showed this much: Both quarterbacks provide reasons for optimism about the years ahead.
That may not placate fans of their two-win teams, who are wading through a season of simultaneous discontent. But the Jets’ 34-27 win over the Giants did feature some promising, if not perfect, play from Darnold and Jones, offering at least a glimmer of hope that both teams have a reasonable answer at the most important position for any football operation.
Darnold was the more reliable performer on this day, going 19-for-30 for 230 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in breaking a three-game losing streak that began with a humiliating 33-0 home loss to the Patriots. That was the last time he played at MetLife Stadium, and his pre-Halloween meltdown featured four interceptions and a moment on the bench in which he admitted “seeing ghosts” because the Patriots’ defense had him so confused. The funk continued with back-to-back losses in Jacksonville and Miami before he recovered against the Giants.
Jones had the more spectacular numbers Sunday, throwing for 308 yards and four touchdowns. He didn’t have any interceptions, but he had a killer fumble early in the third quarter. Jamal Adams sacked him, literally stole the ball and completed the spectacular play by running 25 yards for a touchdown that gave the Jets a 21-13 lead. “Just trying to get the ball out and didn’t do a good job holding on to it with him there,” Jones said.
In fairness to the rookie, who was starting for only the eighth time, he was under siege for much of the game. Left tackle Nate Solder went out with a concussion and was replaced by inexperienced Eric Smith, leaving the Giants with three backup linemen protecting Jones, and Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams threw a heavy dose of blitzes at him. Many of them hit their mark; he was sacked six times. But Jones also took advantage of other situations involving intense defensive pressure, especially on a 39-yard touchdown pass to Darius Slayton in the second quarter and a 61-yarder to Golden Tate in the third.
Jones also was limited by the Giants’ nonexistent running game, which was a far greater problem than the quarterback’s play. Saquon Barkley, last season’s NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, rushed for 1 yard — 1 yard! — on 13 carries.
“I think all phases of the game complement each other,” Jones said. “Each of the phases will take pressure off of others. That goes for the pass game. If we can move the ball consistently, I think some of the runs will open up also.”
Kudos to Jones for not blaming anyone else for his problems, but let’s face it: He was basically playing with one hand tied behind his back because of Barkley’s ineffectiveness. The fact that the Giants were even close to winning this game was a testament to Jones’ ability to transcend the problems afflicting the rest of the offense.
For Darnold, it was a much smoother operation. For the third straight game, the Jets scored a touchdown on their first possession, but unlike the listless losses to the Jaguars and Dolphins, they remained efficient beyond that initial drive. They went up 14-0, thanks to Darnold’s 2-yard touchdown run and 23-yard TD pass to Jamison Crowder, and after Tate’s second touchdown catch of the game gave the Giants a 27-21 lead, the Jets went ahead 31-27 with a 70-yard drive capped by Le’Veon Bell’s 1-yard touchdown run.
“I was just really in control out there,” Darnold said. “I was making sure I wasn’t doing too much. Staying within myself is the best way I can say it. Not turning the ball over, not having a ton of negative plays.”
He was so enthused that he gave the Jets an outside shot of making the playoffs. “We still got a chance,” he said. “If we got on a roll here and we win out, we’ve got a chance at the playoffs. Guys in this locker room know this.”
The chances of making the playoffs rest somewhere between highly unlikely and impossible, but Darnold can be excused for his exuberance. After all, it had been nearly a month since he’d last experienced the taste of victory — a 24-22 win over the Cowboys on Oct. 13.
“It’s been a couple of weeks in a row where he’s walked out of these games frustrated with what has happened with the turnovers and missed opportunities,” Jets coach Adam Gase said. “For him to play a game like that is valuable for his growth.”
Darnold-Jones I turned out to be a worthy matchup in as good a game as you could have expected. Especially from two teams that played themselves out of postseason contention before November even began.
By the time they meet again four years from now, perhaps Jets-Giants will have more meaning than this year’s matchup.
Perhaps by 2023, Darnold-Jones II will have both fighting for a playoff spot. Maybe even a chance to face one another in the first Jets-Giants Super Bowl.
Hey, you never know.