ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Sam Darnold limped off after his first series and went to the locker room, but it was only temporary. The rookie quarterback came back and led the Jets to their first victory in nearly two months.
Darnold, who hadn’t played since Nov. 4 because of a foot injury, made several impressive plays Sunday in a 27-23 comeback victory over the Bills at New Era Field. He led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives and showed the poise that has his team believing he’s going to do great things for the franchise.
On fourth-and-goal, Elijah McGuire scored the winning touchdown on a 1-yard run with 1:17 left. A few plays later, cornerback Trumaine Johnson intercepted Josh Allen at the Buffalo 45 to ice the victory.
The Jets (4-9) celebrated on the field and were screaming in the locker room after ending their losing streak at six games. It was their first victory since Oct. 14.
“It’s a great win, a great team win, and we deserve to celebrate like that,” Darnold said.
With the score 23-20, embattled coach Todd Bowles could have gone for the tying field goal on fourth down. Jason Myers has been automatic, but Bowles didn’t hesitate in making his decision. “We came up here to win the game,” he said.
The Jets did, avenging a 41-10 loss to the Bills on Nov. 11 that many players said had lingered.
On the deciding play, Darnold handed off to McGuire, who became the Jets’ lead back after Isaiah Crowell left with a foot injury. McGuire has been waiting for his opportunity after missing the first eight games because of a broken foot. He ran outside to the right behind his line and rumbled into the end zone for his first touchdown of the season.
“It was about time for me to get in the end zone,” he said.
That had been an issue for the Jets, who scored only three offensive touchdowns in the previous five games. They had three against the Bills (4-9). Darnold had plenty to do with that, leading them back from a 14-3 deficit and hooking up with Robby Anderson on two spectacular plays on the last two touchdown drives.
Darnold completed 16 of 24 passes for 170 yards, one touchdown and one interception. But after sitting out three games because of his strained right foot, he hurt his foot on a broken play on the Jets’ first offensive series and was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to return.
Darnold went to the locker room for X-rays and said he was “very relieved” they came back negative. He returned in the first quarter and saved his best plays for last.
With the Jets down 20-13 in the fourth quarter, on third-and-5, Darnold found Anderson for a 7-yard touchdown with 12:06 left, capping an 85-yard drive with a brilliant play. Darnold scrambled right, reversed field and ran left before firing to Anderson in the end zone.
“I was getting chased by Kyle Williams,” Darnold said. “As he was chasing me, he tried to trip me up and he fell, so I just tried to reverse field to out-leverage him and out-leverage the defense and give our guys another chance to get open. Robby found a way.”
After Steven Hauschka kicked a 36-yard field goal with 2:31 left to put the Bills up three, the Jets took over at their 39. Darnold marched them down the field, with the big play a 37-yard pass down the right sideline to Anderson at the 5.
On third-and-goal from the 4, Darnold ran it to the 1 and came up limping again. But he stayed in the game and helped finish the winning drive.
“He played tough and gritty,” Bowles said. “He showed a lot of grit, a lot of poise and a lot of energy. We needed it.”
The Jets still needed a stop, and finishing games has been a big issue. Unlike last week, when the defense committed three penalties before giving up the winning touchdown in the final minute at Tennessee, they shut the door on Buffalo with their third takeaway of the game.
Allen threw for 206 yards and ran for 101 yards and a TD. But the Jets limited the rookie in the second half, and Johnson came up with the clinching pick.
“We were so happy to get the opportunity to finish,” Johnson said. “Last week, we didn’t finish. It was similar, under two minutes. We had the chance to win the game and we did that.”
Bowles said he enjoyed hearing his players screaming in jubilation while he spoke with reporters. “I’m very happy for the guys,” he said. “They haven’t won in a while. They’ve been taking a lot of heat, and deservedly so, and they came out fighting and got a win.”