When the Jets lined up in victory formation, with 41 seconds left on the game clock, it was a strange and unfamiliar look. Three kneel downs later, the Jets were on the field celebrating their first victory of the season.
The return of quarterback, and team co-captain, Sam Darnold helped ignite the Jets’ offense and give the team a much-needed emotional lift. Darnold threw two touchdown passes in his return from mononucleosis, and helped propel the Jets to a 24-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
If there’s one thing the Jets were in need of, it was a fresh start. Darnold’s return gives head coach Adam Gase the chance to finally show everyone his playbook actually does make sense.
Darnold completed passes in the first quarter to six different receivers. It was clear from the start that Gase wanted to get Darnold in rhythm early. He finished the game with completions to eight different receivers.
There was a rhythm to the Jets’ offense that was missing in the three games without Darnold. Gase exposed the Cowboys’ secondary with crossing routes and Darnold found soft spots in their coverage to make completions and pile up first downs.
The Jets did the majority of their damage in the first half. Darnold finished the game going 23 of 32 for 338 yards, including a 92-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Robby Anderson.
The Jets were unsuccessful in getting Anderson the football without Darnold, but now that the franchise quarterback is back, so is the deep ball to their big-play guy.
“It’s a lot different,” said Anderson on how the offense looked this week with Darnold back at the helm. “Sometimes when you step back, you see things from a different angle. I think he was able to digest the game a little bit while he was gone.”
When Darnold wasn’t looking deep for Anderson he was finding wide receiver Jamison Crowder all over the field. Crowder was a matchup nightmare for the Cowboys’ secondary. He finished with six catches for 98 yards. It’s no coincidence that his only other game this season with that many receiving yards was Darnold’s last time on the field against Buffalo in week 1.
Crowder is becoming Darnold’s safety net, especially with tight end Chris Herndon not on the field yet. There’s a growing chemistry between Darnold and Crowder and Gase did a great job of repeatedly tapping into it.
Darnold’s ability to create time in the pocket with his footwork or extend plays by moving the pocket hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates.
“Oh yeah, for sure, he has a great ability of being able to escape the pocket and extend plays, when he’s out there you just have to be alert. Sometimes the time of the route may breakdown, but he can escape and find you off schedule type plays.”
Sounds like a receiver that’s missed having his quarterback.
Throwing deep and spreading the football around to their playmakers was non-existent for the Jets without Darnold. Gase, by getting the football to his playmakers, opened up the offense.
When asked afterwards how big of an impact big plays on offense are, Darnold stated the obvious on what’s been missing for the Jets.
“It huge. Whenever you’ve got the opportunity to hit explosive plays it keeps the defense on their heels and that opens up the run game, it opens up the short-to-intermediate passes, it just opens up everything,” said Darnold. “When you can throw the ball down the field and convert long completions it’s awesome for our offense.”
Not everything was awesome for the Jets’ offense. The Cowboys were able to limit the damage after halftime, the Jets only scored three points in the second half. The defense, however, continued to play well and made sure to keep Dallas at arm’s length.
The offensive line, despite losing Kelvin Beachum to an ankle injury, played better but must still “clean up” their pass protection and run-blocking.
The Cowboys are struggling, they’ve now lost three games in a row, and any debate about how good they really are is a valid one. But this was a team win by the Jets with a team effort from both sides of the football.
No disrespect to Trevor Siemian or Luke Falk, but the return of Sam Darnold does indeed make the Jets look like a team again.
“It was amazing to have my brother back out there,” Anderson said afterwards in a happy and loud locker room. “It makes a big difference.”
A different team with Darnold, right on time for a fresh start.