This conversation could begin and end with the performance of Sam Darnold. But there’s plenty more worth keeping an eye on as the Jets began their preseason slate with an impressive 17-0 win over the Atlanta Falcons, at MetLife Stadium.
Here are three takeaways from what turned out to be a strong preseason opener for the Jets.
Sam Darnold looks like Joe Cool in debut- The excitement over Darnold, from fans and the media, is warranted. The Jets brought him into the game, after a cameo appearance from starter Josh McCown and an impressive showing from Teddy Bridgewater, to a loud ovation from the home crowd.
Everything that’s been reported on Darnold’s game in training camp was on display against the Falcons. His awareness is what stood out the most to me. Whenever Darnold felt the rush from Atlanta he stepped up in the pocket. His ability to throw the football while on the run is excellent.
Darnold appeared to show no signs of having butterflies out there. He looked calm on the sidelines with his coaches, in the huddle with his teammates, and in the pocket as he went through his progressions. Cool, calm, and poised.
The Jets new offense, the west coast offense, looks to be a great fit for Darnold. He completed 13 of 18 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown.
It was the touchdown drive where I thought Darnold was at his most impressive. With less than two minutes left in the first half, Darnold found wide receiver Charles Johnson in the end zone, but Johnson dropped the pass. Darnold went back to Johnson on the next play and this time it was caught for four-yard touchdown. But Johnson was called for offensive pass interference.
Darnold the rookie, in his first opportunity running a two-minute offense, didn’t fold under pressure. He went right back to Johnson again, on a third-and-14, and connected while rolling to his right and firing a strike. Touchdown Jets.
I believe it is still too early to name Darnold the starter. It’s just one preseason game and mostly against the opposing team’s second unit. But the Jets are going to give him every opportunity to win the job this summer. He’s off to a hell of a start.
Teddy Bridgewater showed he’s still got it – Bridgewater is only 25 years old, it feels as if he’s been in the league at least ten years.
The Jets let Bridgewater run with the starters for their second offensive possession of the game. He didn’t appear to show any signs of rust and connected with Isaiah Crowell on a 16-yard touchdown catch-and-run.
Bridgewater, like Darnold, is going to get a long look from the Jets this summer. But, unlike Darnold, Bridgewater could be also showcasing for potential suitors in the hunt for a quarterback when the season starts.
Bridgewater is still young and wants to get back to the level he was at before suffering a knee injury while with Minnesota. The injury cost him his starting job and almost two years of his NFL career.
The Jets have an insurance policy in Bridgewater for Darnold and McCown. Bridgewater could ball-out and find himself either in the starting lineup for week one with the Jets or with another team. If he can continue to show he’s turned the page from the knee injury, teams are going to start reaching out to the Jets, if they aren’t already.
The play of Nathan Shepherd – The talk around training camp has centered mostly around Darnold and the quarterbacks, but Shepherd’s name is starting to ring bells at One Jets Drive.
Shepherd played his college football at Fort Hays, a division II school. It was a bit of a surprise when the Jets drafted Shepherd in the third round of this year’s NFL draft. But he’s impressed with his play at defensive tackle and was strong against the Falcons.
Shepherd is quick off the ball, shows good instincts, and could be a legitimate run-stopper for the defense if his impressive play continues. He’s a name to keep an eye on.