Sam Darnold throws TD pass, but Jets fall to Giants, 22-16
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The only ways Joe Namath could’ve officially blessed Sam Darnold as the new leader of the Jets any more would’ve been to do the sign of the cross on the rookie's forehead and then dunk his head in water.
The franchise’s one true hero, the guy they still trot out at most games and team functions because he’s still the face of the franchise at 75 years old, shook the 21-year-old’s hand on the sideline before the Jets’ 22-16 loss to the Giants on Friday at MetLife Stadium in the third preseason game.
“Youngster, God bless you, man,” Namath said when greeting Darnold for the first time, with Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater on either side of Darnold.
Namath made headlines in May when he said it’d be “tough” for Darnold to start right away, but by Friday he had changed his tune.
On the television broadcast, he said: “I’ve seen Sam perform tonight better than I’ve seen from any rookie.”
Namath added that the Jets’ QB situation is the best he’s seen in “quite some time.”
Though head coach Todd Bowles won’t say it, it’s pretty obvious to even a casual observer that Darnold will be the Week 1 starter in Detroit. But now the harsh reality sets in — that the Jets (1-2 in the preseason) still aren’t a very good football team, and Darnold is still a rookie QB.
New York has scored only 46 points in three games, and Darnold, who played into the second half but only handed the ball off three times after the break, was 8-for-16 passing for 86 yards and a touchdown on Terrelle Pryor’s first Jets reception.
The “youngster,” as Namath calls him, is now 29-for-45 passing in the preseason (a respectable 64 percent), but for only 244 yards (an atrocious 5.4 yards per attempt), with two touchdowns and one interception. His last pass Friday was nearly intercepted after it was batted in the air at the line, but it bounced on the ground before the defender could corral it.
Darnold has now started 26 games between his two seasons at USC and three preseason games with the Jets, and Friday was only the seventh in which he didn’t turn the ball over.
“I think consistency is the biggest thing for me,” he said, “and so far I think I’ve been pretty consistent. But at the same time, there’s obviously little things I can get better at.”
Darnold marched the Jets 75 yards on the opening drive. He completed his first pass to wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, who was playing his first game since New Year’s Day 2017 after neck surgery last year and a thumb injury on the preseason. Later in the drive, he converted a third-and-8 to tight end Neal Sterling for 13 yards. But Darnold’s most impressive play was made with his feet, as he scrambled for 14 yards on third-and-13, sliding just before he could take a hit. Bilal Powell capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run.
Darnold’s fourth drive was five plays and went 53 yards for a score. He threw a great ball to Enunwa for 16 yards on third-and-6 from the Giants’ 28-yard line and then went through his progressions and eventually found Pryor on a crossing route for the score to give the Jets a 13-7 lead.
Does he believe he’s done enough to win the starting job?
“At the end of the day, that’s up to the coaches,” he said. “I’m not here to say that I’ve won the job or that I’ve lost the job.”
Defensively, the Jets have still yet to allow an offensive touchdown, but they’ve given up five field goals in each of the last two games. Friday, they gave up a 55-yard punt return touchdown as it was a horrible day for the special teams. Oh, and they committed an unmanageable 15 penalties, 13 of which were accepted for 108 yards.
“It felt like more than that,” Bowles said of the penalties. “We can’t have that going into opening day.”
The Jets will be on a short week for their final preseason game, Thursday night in Philadelphia against the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles.
Generally the players on the roster bubble play the bulk of the time in the last preseason game, their final opportunity to show the coaching staff something. But 11 days after that, it’ll be opening night.
Will we see Darnold under center to start that game? My guess is yes, but the challenges will be just beginning for this team at that point.
Let’s get to some news and notes from the game...
-Wide receiver Jermaine Kearse was held out with what Bowles said was an abdomen issue.
-Other notables who didn’t play were McCown, CB Parry Nickerson, NT Steve McLendon, RBs Elijah McGuire and George Atkinson, CB Xavier Coleman and LB Kevin Pierre-Louis.
-LT Kelvin Beachum (foot) also didn’t play. Brent Qvale filled in at left tackle. Beachum's injury is unlikely to run into the regular season, but Bowles is being cautious with the veteran.
-TE Eric Tomlinson had two false start penalties in the first quarter. Not good, especially when you’re battling for a starting job.
-The Jets ran for only 66 yards on 21 attempts (3.1 per attempt). Powell had 24 yards on 10 carries, Trent Cannon 23 yards on five carries and Isaiah Crowell six yards on four carries. Darnold had the rest.
-Speaking of Cannon, he lost his third fumble of the preseason, the time on a kick return to set the Giants up in the red zone, and they came away with a field goal to take a 16-13 lead.
-As we said earlier, the Jets’ special teams were atrocious. They lost a fumble on a kickoff (what I like to call a krumble), allowed a 55-yard punt return TD, Taylor Bertolet missed an extra point and the Giants finished with 145 punt return yards on seven tries.
Said Bowles of the deficiencies on specials: “I’m disappointed because there were some people who had a chance to shine and make this team.”
-Bridgewater finished 11-for-15 for 104 yards and was sacked twice. On the preseason, he is 28-for-38 (74 percent) for 316 yards (5.7 per attempt) with two touchdowns and one interception. Not much different than Darnold.
-Safety Marcus Maye made his season debut after offseason ankle surgery. The second-year man had four tackles and a pass deflection. Said Maye: “It felt pretty good for the most part.”
-The debut of the “New Jack City” secondary wasn’t a good one, as the Jets allowed pass plays of 30, 47 and 54 yards. Morris Claiborne got burned badly on a double move by Cody Latimer and Buster Skine lost a fight for the ball with Sterling Shepard.
-Speaking of the secondary, CB Rashard Robinson left the game with a groin injury.
Back at it on Sunday for practice.