Sam Darnold had been steadfast in his belief that he was close, that the Jets were close, to putting things together. Which may have sounded a bit tone deaf, given the fact that he and his team looked mostly miserable in last Sunday’s 31-12 loss to the Jaguars.
It was their third straight loss — each one more ineffective than the last — and you wondered if this would be the continuation of a long and mostly painful season for the rookie quarterback.
But give the kid credit. His gut feeling about being on the verge of doing some fine work was spot on, as evidenced by the Jets’ streak-busting 34-16 romp over the Broncos on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
“Like I said last week, it’s just a matter of time until we click and our offense is [firing] on all cylinders,” Darnold said. “It’s going to be fun to watch us in the next couple of weeks.”
This was about as good an offensive performance as you could want, and not just with Darnold. He threw for a career-high three touchdowns and benefited greatly from a brilliant rushing attack as the Jets piled up a whopping 323 yards, including Isaiah Crowell’s spectacular 77-yard scoring run in the second quarter.
With the Broncos clearly not recovered from last Monday night’s 27-23 home loss to the AFC West rival Chiefs, the Jets took advantage with a relentless rushing attack that opened up the play-action passing game for Darnold. He took advantage, but only after getting past his accuracy problems.
Darnold overthrew Robby Anderson, Bilal Powell and Quincy Enunwa on critical passes in the Jets’ blowout loss in Jacksonville, but he was letter-perfect this time. He hit Anderson in stride on a deep route in the second quarter, and Anderson ran under the ball and easily caught the pass before finishing off a 76-yard touchdown.
Later in the quarter, Darnold dropped a dime to Anderson in the left corner of the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown. He found Terrelle Pryor for a 20-yard touchdown that put the Jets up 34-10 with 5:10 to play in the fourth quarter.
“It was just really fun to be able to go out there and show what we’re all capable of,” said Darnold, who was 10-for-22 for 198 yards, three touchdowns and one interception for a 98.1 rating. His interception came off a pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage.
“I feel like [Darnold] started to get a little more comfortable,” Anderson said.
It didn’t take long for Anderson to feel that way. As soon as the ball left Darnold’s hand on his first scoring pass, Anderson had no doubt. “I knew it was a touchdown,” he said.
Credit Darnold for remaining unbowed in the face of some early-season adversity. He still has plenty of room to grow, and there are sure to be difficult moments ahead. But for a 21-year-old rookie to make good on his contention that the Jets really were close to putting together a game like this tells you everything you need to know.
“The one thing I can say about Sam from Day 1 is that he’s the same guy that walked in however many months ago,” left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. “Same way he carries himself. Same way he approached the game. Same haircut. Same beard. He hasn’t changed, and I really appreciate that about him.”
How important is it that your quarterback is the same guy, regardless of the circumstances?
“It’s great when you know you come into the locker room — win, lose or draw — and you get the same guy,” Beachum said. “He’s not too high, not too low. He’s even-keeled, and I appreciate that about him.”
It’s what you need from your quarterback. Darnold delivered when his team needed it most. And he thinks there’s a lot more where that came from.
“Any win, we’ll take it,” he said. “I feel like every week in the league is a different challenge and it’s a hard challenge, but we’re capable of winning a lot of games.”