It is a measure of how high Sam Darnold has raised the bar of expectation that we say something like this after the Jets’ rookie quarterback lit up the Colts on Sunday in a 42-34 win at MetLife Stadium: He should have helped produce even more points in the team’s second straight win.
Sounds crazy, right?
Well, not when you consider that the offense was routinely stopped in the red zone and that the Jets had to settle for seven field goals by Jason Myers. The fourth-year kicker set a franchise record for most field goals in a game, but that was a statistical sign that Darnold could have done even better.
If you don’t believe me, let Darnold tell you himself.
“Obviously, we want to be able to finish in the red zone,” he said. “That’s what we pride ourselves on. At the same time, it was awesome to get down there, leave that to Jason to score some points. But that’s somewhere we can get better is finishing in the red zone when we get down there.”
It was another mostly terrific game from Darnold, who was 24-for-30 for 280 yards, two touchdowns and an interception for a 113.9 rating. He largely solved the Colts’ cover 2 defense, which is built to limit the deep ball and force quarterbacks to throw mostly underneath and then pick their spots on the deeper passes. And if not for his inability to finish more drives with touchdowns instead of field goals, it would have been even better.
Even so, scoring on eight straight possessions was some pretty fine work.
“It’s just patience, take what they give me when the plays are there,” Darnold said in describing how to solve the riddle of the cover 2. “Just letting the defense dictate what we’re doing and just get it down to our guys and let them make plays underneath.”
Sounds simple, and Darnold certainly made it look that way. But ask any Giants fans about watching their offense face the cover 2, and they’d take a day like this in a heartbeat. Neither Ben McAdoo nor Pat Shurmur has figured out a design to go against this most basic of NFL defenses, leaving Eli Manning in the unenviable position he now faces.
The Giants decided against taking Darnold with the No. 2 overall pick. While time ultimately will help us judge the prudence of that choice, the early returns suggest the Jets have benefited by the fact that Darnold thus was available at No. 3.
In fact, they have benefited immensely. And perhaps incalculably.
While the Giants are spinning their wheels on offense in a 1-5 start, the Jets are 3-3 and enjoying the promise already being shown by Darnold. After an uneven performance in the Jets’ three-games-in-11-days early-season schedule, in which Darnold threw three TD passes and five interceptions, he has six TD passes and two picks in his last three. Not coincidentally, the Jets are 2-1 in those games.
Darnold appears more comfortable in the offense and is giving the Jets more hope about his immediate and long-term future.
“[Darnold] took what they gave him,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said of the Colts’ zone scheme. “He understood what was going on. The game slowed for him. For the most part, he played a heck of a ballgame.”
Yes, he could have done better in the red zone. And he could have made more plays on third downs. But all in all, this was a major step in the right direction.
Case in point: With 42 seconds left in the second quarter and his team up 20-13, Darnold took over at the Jets’ 28. The Jets could have left the field, content with a one-touchdown lead, but offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates had enough confidence in Darnold to try to tack on some points. Darnold got the Jets in field-goal range and Myers made it a 10-point game.
Darnold marched the Jets 72 yards on the opening possession of the second half, finishing off the drive with a completion to tight end Chris Herndon, who found a seam in the Colts’ defense and ran it in for a 32-yard score to make it 30-13.
“We’re definitely back in the thick of things,” Darnold said. “But at the same time, we’re definitely not satisfied.”
Right attitude. Right player.
Every time he steps on the field, Darnold looks more and more like the real deal.