Rookie quarterback Sam Darnold picked up some new fans on Sunday when he led the Jets to a fourth-quarter comeback victory on the road against the Bills.
One of them is Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien, whose team will face the Jets at MetLife Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
“I really like Sam,” O’Brien said on Monday. “I liked him coming out in the draft. I think he’s got good poise. He’s got a really good arm. He’s accurate. He’s smart. I think he can extend plays. I think he’s an excellent young quarterback. I think the young quarterbacks in the league right now, it’s really an exciting time. Sam’s definitely a part of that.”
Sunday’s fourth quarter was an exciting time for the Jets as they rallied to snap a six-game losing streak. Darnold — after missing three games with a strained right foot — led the Jets to two touchdown drives, with Elijah McGuire scoring the winning touchdown on a 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal with 1:17 left.
The Jets were trailing 20-13 when Darnold made what might end up being the signature play of his first season. On third-and-5, he scrambled right, scrambled left — nearly 50 yards worth of scrambling — and eventually found Robby Anderson for a tying 7-yard touchdown pass.
“You don’t want to make a living doing that,” coach Todd Bowles said on Monday, “but you have to be a football player at times, too. The play broke down and he was good at making the play when it broke down.”
The Jets were bracing for the worst when Darnold left Sunday’s game in the first quarter with what appeared to be a recurrence of the foot injury. But X-rays were negative and Darnold returned to finish the day 16-for- 24 for 170 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
“It was great for his first game back,” Bowles said. “Obviously, he was confident before. It just helps him. It helps him be himself a little more, which he’s comfortable with being anyway.”
Bowles said he wasn’t concerned about Darnold’s availability “at this time” for Saturday against the Texans, who are 9-4 and in first place in the AFC South. A 24-21 loss to Indianapolis on Sunday ended their winning streak at nine games.
“We have a couple of guys nicked up,” Bowles said. “But we’ll see how it goes later in the week.”
O’Brien has his own young quarterback in second-year pro Deshaun Watson, who was outdueled by Andrew Luck on Sunday. Watson has thrown 22 touchdown passes and nine interceptions and has a 100.9 quarterback rating.
Darnold has thrown 12 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions in 10 games and has a quarterback rating of 69.5. There’s still a lot of room for the 21-year-old to grow, but the Jets and their next opponent saw a glimpse of what could be on Sunday.
“I think the big thing with young guys — really smart guys like Deshaun, like Sam, like all these guys — they pick up your system pretty quickly,” O’Brien said. “Then it becomes how fast can they pick up defensive football in this league.
“Defensive football in this league is a lot different than college. There’s a lot tighter coverage and a lot more scheme. That’s just the way it is. I think that’s the biggest jump you see guys make is their knowledge of defensive football from their first year to their second year.”