The first pass he threw was nearly a disaster - an ill-advised dart into double coverage that went off Giants safety Jabril Peppers' hands. That would've been a heck of a way for Sam Darnold to start off what could be his breakthrough season.
"That was really dangerous," Darnold said later. "First pass under Coach Gase was almost a pick -- almost a pick six.
"(We're) really trying to limit those. But it was a close call."
It was a close call - probably too close for a fan base that is forever waiting for the other shoe to drop. They want to believe in Darnold. They want to believe in these Jets. They want to believe that all the tomorrows they've been promised have finally arrived.
It may be hard for a fan base that hasn't seen a playoff game in nine years, but not for the new coach who was brought in to lead them back. Because even when that ball was in the air, when Darnold "thought I could have squeezed it in there" to a well-covered Quincy Enunwa, new Jets coach Adam Gase wasn't worried at all.
His faith in, and love for, his young quarterback seems unshakeable.
And it didn't take long for that to pay off.
If anyone wondered why Gase is so enamored with the 22-year-old quarterback he inherited, it was on full display at the Meadowlands on Thursday night. Yes, it was only one series in one preseason game, but that hardly mattered. Gase has been gushing since the day he was hired about Darnold's potential.
And in the Jets' 31-22 loss to the Giants, Darnold's potential was easy to see. On the next play, third down, he calmly avoided the Giants pass rush, waited for tight end Chris Herndon to get open, and hit him with a pass 32 yards down field. And on the next play - a play that could become a signature for the Jets this season - Darnold stepped up in the pocket as receiver Jamison Crowder cut across the middle, hit him with a short pass and watched Crowder turn that into a 28-yard gain.
One near disaster, followed by two perfect, savvy plays. Those are things rookie quarterbacks rarely do. And those are things that Gase is so sure Darnold will do this season. What he saw on that first drive, where Darnold went 4-of-5 for 68 yards and a three-yard touchdown to Crowder, was everything Gase hoped to see - and knew he would see - out of his quarterback and his offense.
Or, as Darnold said: "Hopefully it gave Jets fans a little taste of what the season is going to be like."
"The first offense," Gase said, "I thought they operated the way that we had been talking about."
It did, even though the Jets were operating without Le'Veon Bell. The revamped offensive line kept Darnold protected (although the Giants' pass rush didn't exactly provide the biggest test). And the combination of Crowder, Enunwa, Herndon and Robby Anderson was good enough to spread out the defense and create room for open receivers.
And Darnold, months into learning a new offense, saw them and made the right decisions and throws.
Gase has said for months that he's never worked with a young quarterback with as much potential as Darnold. That's true, considering his quarterback at previous stops were Ryan Tannehill and Jay Cutler, and he only had Peyton Manning at the end of the future Hall of Famer's career. But publicly and privately he's gushed about Darnold has all the tools and knows how to use them. He sees greatness.
And nothing he saw on Thursday night changed his mind.
"His sideline demeanor and his on the field demeanor, they're awesome," Gase said. "He is calm. I thought just watching him on the field, he'd relay the call in, get the guys lined up, he was just flatline. And then he played fast so that was just getting the calls in as fast as possible so he can go to work."
The best part about it is that the work has only just begun. Darnold is just getting started and Gase is just getting started with him. It sounds like a love story, listening to Gase talk about Darnold. But based on the early returns, the two of them have a marriage that just might last.