Sam Darnold had played a terrific game, showing more growth than he had all season against a pretty stout defense and one of the best teams in the AFC.
The rookie quarterback led the Jets back from a 13-point deficit and gave them a three-point lead late in the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans. But the Jets’ defense gave it up right away, and there was no late-game magic from Darnold or anyone else in green Saturday.
The Texans scored 10 points in the last 2:15, including DeAndre Hopkins’ brilliant 14-yard touchdown catch, and beat the Jets, 29-22, at MetLife Stadium.
That extended the Jets’ home losing streak to four games. They will close out their home schedule next week against the Packers and haven’t won at MetLife since Oct. 14.
“We had opportunities to beat a playoff contender,” offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum said. “We had a chance to beat them. We had them on the ropes and didn’t close it out.”
It’s the third straight year the Jets (4-10) have lost at least 10 games, which is why Todd Bowles is expected to be in his final two games as Jets coach. The inability to close games will be one of his legacies. His team fought but again ended up disappointed.
“We’re a good football team,” said safety Jamal Adams, Bowles’ staunchest supporter. “I don’t really know where the speculation of just because we’re losing, we’re a bad football team [comes from]. We just got to make more plays and play smarter at certain times.
“We go out there and compete. We’re coming up short. We’re a good football team. We’re well-coached.”
The Jets actually might have been able to help Bowles’ staying power with a victory over the Texans (10-4).
Darnold’s growth continues to be the most important thing for the Jets. He definitely showed some against the Texans, even if he wasn’t able to lead them on a game-winning drive in the closing moments, as he did against the Bills last week.
But Darnold did very little wrong. He was 24-for-38 for 253 yards and threw touchdown passes to Robby Anderson and Andre Roberts. Darnold also kept plays alive with his legs, rolling out and scrambling to avoid sacks and make plays.
“I feel like our whole offense is really starting to click,” said Darnold, who had 35 yards on six carries. “But it comes down to wins and losses. To go out there against a good Texans team, it would have been awesome to be able to get that win. But we just came up short.”
Darnold led a drive that put the Jets ahead 22-19 with five minutes left. Elijah McGuire, who scored the game-winning touchdown last week in Buffalo, gave the Jets the lead with a 2-yard score — with plenty of help from his friends. The Jets’ entire offensive line pushed him into the end zone.
The extra point by Jason Myers, who missed twice after earlier touchdowns, made it a three-point game.
On the drive, Darnold completed a 6-yard pass to Anderson on fourth-and-1 from the 25. Three plays later, he scrambled for a 14-yard gain. There was defensive holding on the play, giving the Jets a first-and-goal at the 2. Darnold was stopped on a quarterback sneak, but McGuire got in on second down.
The Jets’ defense had sacked Deshaun Watson six times — three by Henry Anderson — and had played brilliantly in the second half. But the Texans marched 75 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, a drive that featured some controversy.
Morris Claiborne was called for defensive holding on Hopkins on third-and-4 from the Jets’ 49. The pass was incomplete, and the Jets thought a penalty should not have been called.
“Not at all,” Claiborne said. “His hand was on me and it was like we were holding hands.
“When you can’t get those calls right, it hurts. This is how I feed my family, and when you make calls like that, you mess it up for me.”
Four plays later, with Claiborne blanketing Hopkins, the star receiver made the go-ahead grab before falling to the ground. Hopkins had 10 catches for 170 yards and two touchdowns.
“I felt like you don’t cover better than that,” Claiborne said.
On the ensuing drive, Darnold’s first-down pass was a deep throw to Anderson that was nearly picked off. On second down, he completed a 3-yard pass to Roberts. J.J. Watt sacked Darnold on third down for a 7-yard loss. On fourth down, just after the two-minute warning, Anderson couldn’t hold on to Darnold’s pass when a catch would have given the Jets a first down.
“It was just a little bad judgment by me,” Anderson said. “I came a little bit too much under and it hit right off my fingertips. But I’ve got to make those plays.”
Ka’imi Fairbairn then kicked his fifth field goal, a 40-yarder, to give the Texans a 29-22 lead.
After the Jets got the ball back, Darnold was unable to complete his first two passes and then was sacked. His fourth-down pass was complete but did not pick up enough yardage for a first down.
“Sam is special,” cornerback Trumaine Johnson said. “You see it. He’s special. He kept us in the game for sure. We just got to finish on the ‘D’.”