Sam Darnold entered the game in the second quarter to a loud ovation, and it didn’t take long for him to really give the MetLife Stadium crowd something to cheer.
On his second series of his NFL debut, the rookie quarterback showed what all the hype is about and why everyone in the organization hopes the Jets have found their franchise savior. Darnold led a 64-yard drive that resulted in his first NFL touchdown pass.
Darnold was flushed out of the pocket on third-and-goal from the 14. He rolled right and fired a 14-yard bullet to Charles Johnson for the score with 52 seconds left in the first half of the Jets’ 17-0 preseason victory over the Falcons on Friday night.
“I thought I played pretty good,” Darnold said. “I put the ball where it needed to be, tried to get it in the hands of our playmakers.”
The No. 3 pick finished the night 13-for-18 for 96 yards and a touchdown. Darnold, who wore a glove on his left hand after taking a cleat to his non-throwing hand while sliding during his first series, was 4-for-7 with 22 yards in the second half as the Jets kept the ball on the ground.
It’s only one preseason game, but Darnold officially began making his case to be the starter when the Jets open the season in Detroit on Sept. 10. He has three more games to earn the job.
Josh McCown is the incumbent and Teddy Bridgewater led the Jets on two scoring drives in his only two series running the team. But Darnold showed the mobility, vision and poise that has everyone involved with the Green and White excited about the future.
“There are things he can get better at,” coach Todd Bowles said. “But it was a good start. He looked comfortable.”
In his lone scoring drive, Darnold completed six straight passes, including a big-time throw across the field to tight end Clive Walford for an 18-yard gain. Darnold should have completed seven in a row, but Johnson dropped an easy touchdown grab.
Two plays later, Darnold found Johnson for a touchdown, but he was called for offensive pass interference for pushing off.
The third time proved to be the charm for Darnold and Johnson.
“It was awesome,” Darnold said. “My first, I guess, scoring drive of my career was a two-minute drive going down the field. It was awesome. To get the penalty and get pushed back and for our whole offense to respond to adversity like that, it was awesome to see.”
Darnold also appreciated the fan support, which included some chants of his name.
“Even when I was on the sideline, I had fans yelling, ‘Great game, Sam! You played great!’ ” Darnold said. “It’s cool to be able to get that response from all the fans. It’s amazing to be able to play in front of them. Jets fans are one of a kind, they’re awesome.”
Darnold’s next test in this legit quarterback competition is Thursday’s game against Washington after some joint practices with the Redskins. If Bowles follows his blueprint from last year, McCown won’t play Thursday and Bridgewater and Darnold will get the bulk of the reps. McCown played only three series last preseason and won the starting job over Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg.
Just like last year’s preseason opener, McCown started and played one series. He completed one pass for 4 yards.
Bridgewater, who is coming back from a knee injury that cost him most of the past two years, was effective and efficient in his Jets debut. He went 7-for-8 with 85 yards and a TD. On his first series, he connected with Isaiah Crowell for a 16-yard TD. Crowell did most of the work, catching a short pass and turning it into a touchdown after taking a big hit near the goal line. But Crowell left the game and was evaluated for a concussion.
Bridgewater’s second drive ended with undrafted rookie Taylor Bertolet drilling a 45-yard field goal that gave the Jets a 10-0 lead.
“It was good to be back out there with the guys, flying around, throwing touchdowns and winning football games,” Bridgewater said. “It was an awesome feeling. I was at peace out there. I was just so excited.”
Notes & quotes: Buster Skrine led with his head on a tackle and was penalized 15 yards. The NFL implemented a new rule to crack down on helmet hits. Skrine then was tended to by a trainer for a shoulder injury . . . Rookie speedster Trenton Cannon, who has muffed some punts in practice, fumbled two in the second half. The Jets recovered both . . . Tight end Neal Sterling left the game in the third quarter because of an ankle injury . . . Tackle Kelvin Beachum, defensive lineman Steve McLendon, linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin, rookie tight end Chris Herndon, kicker Cairo Santos, defensive back Elijah McGuire and safety Rontez Miles did not play . . . All of the Jets stood for the national anthem with their arms locked.