Sam Darnold was back running the offense, and the Jets showed that they do in fact have one. But it was their defense that came up huge with the game on the line.
As a result, the Jets did something they hadn’t done in 2019: Win.
The Jets held off the Cowboys, 24-22, on Sunday at MetLife Stadium for their first victory of the season and their first at home in eight games. It also was Adam Gase’s first win as Jets coach.
But it wasn’t complete until safety Jamal Adams made the game-saving play with 43 seconds left.
The Cowboys cut a 21-3 deficit to two on Dak Prescott’s 4-yard touchdown run in the closing moments, but the Jets didn’t crumble.
Adams blitzed Prescott as the Cowboys attempted the tying two-point conversion. Prescott released the ball just before Adams hit him, but he had to get rid of it so quickly that it landed wide of Jason Witten.
Demaryius Thomas recovered the ensuing onside kick and the Jets celebrated their first victory in five games this season.
“I’m really, really excited for the guys in this locker room,” Darnold said. “We were starving for a win. To come out there and do it in the fashion that we did, defense getting a huge stop on the two-point conversion — we wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Darnold missed the previous three games after contracting mononucleosis, but he wore extra padding to protect his spleen and showed no rust after being off more than a month, going 23-for-32 for 338 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Darnold and Robby Anderson hooked up on a 92-yard catch-and-run — the longest play in the NFL this season. “It was awesome,” Darnold said.
The offense had totaled nine points in the three games without Darnold and had scored two touchdowns all season.
Darnold, who engineered three first-half touchdown drives, got the Jets into the end zone on their second drive of the game. He led a 14-play, 83-yard drive that ended with Le’Veon Bell’s 2-yard TD run.
“I felt good out there,” Darnold said. “It was good to hear the fans roar again and be out there on the field with my teammates. There’s no better feeling.”
Darnold’s tune might have been different if the defense hadn’t stepped up the way it did.
“We knew we had to get this win, and we knew what it took and what it’s going to take,” Adams said. “It’s communication and playing hard.”
The Cowboys lost leading receiver Amari Cooper early in the game with a quadriceps injury. But Ezekiel Elliott (152 scrimmage yards, touchdown) and Prescott (277 yards passing, rushing touchdown) kept Dallas in the game.
The Jets held the Cowboys to three field goals for the first 53:30 of the game. They also came up with a huge stand on fourth-and-2 from their 7, as rookie Quinnen Williams tackled Prescott for a 1-yard loss. Darnold connected with Anderson on the next play.
The Cowboys cut it to 21-16 on Elliott’s 5-yard TD run with 6:30 left, but the Jets answered with a 38-yard field goal by Sam Ficken with 3:24 to go. They needed a big stop by their defense for Darnold to have a happy return.
Dallas drove deep into Jets territory with the help of a couple of pass-interference calls on Daryl Roberts and Blake Cashman. The Cowboys had a first down from the 12 before two penalties moved it back to the 29, but pass interference on Adams gave Dallas a first down at the 16.
After Prescott’s touchdown run, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams dialed up a win-saving blitz. Adams and the defense executed it perfectly.
“It was huge,” Adams said. “That’s just finishing. That’s just playing as one. Never quitting. Whatever it takes.”
“That won us the game,” Leonard Williams said. “It was a big-time play.”
Dallas had a TD negated early in the second half when offensive pass interference wiped out Witten’s 4-yard score. The Cowboys settled for a 32-yard field goal by Brett Maher that made it 21-9. On the ensuing possession, Darnold threw behind Jamison Crowder on third down and was picked off at the Dallas 6.
The Cowboys couldn’t capitalize, though. They moved the ball into Jets territory again, but this time Maher missed a 40-yard field goal.
“To win it the way we had to win it,” Gase said, “where they score and we had to stop a two-point conversion, the offense had to drive down the field and answer a score and we got three . . . All the things that had to happen in the fourth, that’s the way we had to win, and we needed that.”