The seats inside MetLife Stadium were empty Sunday, but the Jets did everything they could to make it feel like they were playing a real game.
Music and crowd noise were piped in. The public address announcer belted out downs and distances. The players were dressed in their game jerseys. The first time the starting offense took the field, Sam Darnold waved for the fans to get up and even cupped his ear. They tried to simulate everything.
“It was cool,” Darnold said on a Zoom call. “There was definitely more energy than when we didn’t have any noise at practice, and it was just a scrimmage. It was nice to be able to have some type of noise and music going there. It was good.”
The Jets will take the field for real in two weeks in Buffalo and there will be no fans at the game. They open at home on Sept. 20, with no fans at MetLife. Since there are no preseason games this year becaus of the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the closest the Jets could come to simulating a game in a wide-open stadium..
It wasn’t a full scrimmage. Most of it was scripted. Adam Gase put the offense and defense in specific downs and situations to see how they react. There were TV timeouts, two-minute drills for both sides of the ball and a halftime where the offense and defense went to separate locker rooms.
The last part of practice was more of a scrimmage with actual drives. It ended with Darnold throwing a 71-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hogan to cap a 79-yard drive against the second-team defense. It was Darnold’s second touchdown pass of the day.
“I think we’re leaving here pretty happy with where we are,” Darnold said.
Few Jets felt that way following their first scrimmage, Wednesday at their practice facility in Florham Park, N.J.
The starting offense didn’t score any touchdowns and turned it over three times in six series against the second-team defense. The starting defense allowed 20 points to the second-team offense. Both starting units at least showed signs of improvement.
“I thought today was way better than the last time we had a scrimmage atmosphere, not sure if it was the fact we were in the stadium,” Gase said. “There was a lot of positive things that came out of today.”
Another major difference was Le’Veon Bell was much more involved in the offense than in the other scrimmage.
Bell was pulled out Wednesday because of hamstring tightness. Bell said on Twitter that his hamstring was fine. It led to another Gase-Bell controversy that the two hashed out. Gase told Bell he wished he would have come to him instead of gripe on social media.
Gase went to Bell often Sunday in the run game and passing game. Bell lined up wide and caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Darnold. On the Jets’ final drive, Bell got five touches – three more than on Wednesday. Bell even took some second-team snaps but that was because the Jets are down players. They lost No. 3 back La’Mical Perine to an ankle injury Sunday.
“Some of it was the numbers,” Gase said. “We were treating this more of a ramp-it-up deal. I don’t want to say it was the third preseason game because we didn’t do four or five drives. We were trying to make sure that guys were in a good flow, trying to make it feel like a game somewhat.”
The Jets have plenty of work to do to get ready for Sept. 13 in Buffalo. The offense sputtered, and was outplayed by the defense for most of the day. But they feel the overall experienced helped and prepared them for this season.
“I enjoyed being able to come over here today. It was kind of like Groundhog Day every day,” Gase said. “We’re trying to get ready for the season. But to able to come here, feeling like a normal game day, getting the uniform on, all those little things that you normally don’t think about, you take it for granted. The majority of us enjoyed it today because it was so different than everything we’ve been doing.”