The Jets drafted Sam Darnold after Kirk Cousins turned them down, and they knew there would be some really rough days for the rookie quarterback.
He had one of them on Sunday.
Darnold had his first three-interception game on a day when the offense couldn’t get anything going. Cousins and the Vikings didn’t have the same issues as they routed the Jets, 37-17, at MetLife Stadium.
Darnold needed some of his more seasoned and experienced teammates to help him, but they couldn’t. Poor decisions and execution in all three phases hurt the Jets, who had their winning streak snapped at two games.
The Jets lost the turnover battle, 4-0. Their defense gave up three touchdowns of at least 34 yards. Their special teams had too many penalties and muffed punts. Todd Bowles made some questionable calls.
Despite the lopsided score, though, the Jets’ confidence and bravado weren’t shaken. Safety Jamal Adams said he thinks they are good enough to beat teams like the Vikings, who reached the NFC title game last year.
“I think we’re there,” Adams said. “I don’t think we’re close. This team is a great team. We have a 53-man roster full of a lot of talent. There’s no ‘we’re waiting for next year. Rebuild.’ There’s none of that. At the end of the day, I think this team right here can be special as long as we continue to do little things and work at it.”
The final score didn’t show it, but the Jets (3-4) were right there for more than half of the game against Minnesota (4-2-1), even though they were mostly inept in the first half. The Jets trailed by only 10-7 at halftime, but things fell apart after that. Darnold threw all three interceptions in the second half and the defense gave up 210 yards and three touchdowns.
“It was everybody on the team,” Bowles said. “We didn’t play smart on offense. We had the turnovers. We gave up some timely plays on defense and special teams.”
Darnold had his lowest completion percentage (.405) and passer rating (34.4). He was 17-for-42 for 206 yards and one touchdown and also rushed for a TD.
Things were so bad for Darnold that he had minus-1 passing yards in the second and third quarters. Things were so bad for the Jets’ offense that they didn’t convert their first third down until about four minutes remained in the third quarter.
The Jets were shorthanded at receiver without Quincy Enunwa (ankle) and lost running back Bilal Powell (neck) in the first half, but they weren’t making excuses.
“It was lack of execution,” Darnold said. “Nothing more than that. I got to find completions and we got to do a better job executing.”
Cousins was the Jets’ top target in the offseason. They offered him a fully guaranteed three-year, $90-million contract, but he instead signed with the Vikings for three years and $84 million.
Cousins finished 25-for-40 for 241 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Latavius Murray rushed for two touchdowns and NFL-leading receiver Adam Thielen caught nine passes for 110 yards and one touchdown. Thielen has had at least 100 receiving yards in all seven games this season, an NFL record in the Super Bowl era.
After Murray’s second rushing score made it 27-10 with 13:38 left in the game, the Jets showed a little life. Despite all their woes, they had an opportunity to stay in the game.
The Jets cut it to 27-17 on Darnold’s 1-yard keeper three minutes later and their defense forced a three-and-out, but Darnold was picked off on the next series and Cousins put the game away. Aldrick Robinson beat Morris Claiborne on fourth-and-8, and Cousins found him for a 34-yard TD.
On the next series, Darnold threw his third interception.
“We’re fine,” linebacker Darron Lee said. “No one is worried or panicking. We played a good football team. We just beat ourselves.”
The Vikings took a 17-7 lead on Murray’s 11-yard TD run and Darnold was intercepted on the Jets’ next play when he underthrew Robby Anderson. It was deflected and Harrison Smith returned it 52 yards to the Jets’ 9 to set up Dan Bailey’s 22-yard field goal.
“You can’t force it like that,” Bowles said. “You got to see it a little better.”
Darnold agreed. “It was a bad read, in all honesty,” he said. “I shouldn’t have even thrown it in the first place.”
“We just got to keep fighting. We just got to execute. That’s what it comes down to. We have to do a better job of that.”