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Despite losing Saturday's game, Jets QB Sam Darnold put together arguably his most complete performance of the season. He ended up with 253 yards and two touchdowns, adding three more first downs with his legs. Darnold completed 24-of-38 passes and didn't have an interception, although he threw five incompletions in a row with the game on the line in the last two minutes.
Let's look at some specific examples before we draw conclusions:
2nd quarter, 0.35. Jets trailing 16-3. 1st-and-5 at the Texans' five-yard line
This was a crucial possession for the Jets, who drove 83 yards for their first touchdown. With the Texans leading 16-3 and due to receive the ball first in the second half, the game had a chance to turn into a routine blowout. However, Darnold was masterful on the drive as he went 6-for-6 for 71 yards and also ran for a first down. He finished off the drive with another spectacular touchdown pass to Robby Anderson, keeping his eyes downfield as he stepped up and showing good awareness of where the line of scrimmage was.
However, his throw on the play before the touchdown pass might have been his most impressive of the game. Operating out of a four-wide set, Darnold initially looked left, then looked over at his checkdown option underneath, before delivering a perfectly-timed 26-yard pass to Anderson on a post route on the right side. Going through his progressions was something Darnold specifically said he wanted to work on over his last few games, and here he displayed that he's already doing it at an advanced level.
3rd quarter, 8:44. Jets trailing 16-9. 3rd-and-5 at the Texans' 13-yard line
Darnold's impressive touchdown pass to veteran Andre Roberts looked to have tied the game only for Jason Myers to miss his second extra point in a row.
This was a great example of a play where everything came together perfectly. With the Jets again in a four-wide set, Houston only rushed three and the protection held up well with both guards giving the tackles help. Roberts ran a great route that caused the cornerback to lose his balance and Darnold dropped the pass in over his head with excellent touch and perfect timing.
4th quarter, 9:53. Jets trailing 19-15. 3rd-and-8 at the Jets' 41
The Jets took the lead with five minutes to go as Elijah McGuire's touchdown wrapped up another excellent drive by Darnold. The Jets went 73 yards in 15 plays with Darnold completing four of six passes for 54 yards and also running for two first downs. His most impressive throw was this 25-yard pass to Chris Herndon.
With the Jets once again working from a four-wide formation, the Texans sent four rushers and caved in the left side of the offensive line. However, Darnold sensed the pressure and extended the play by rolling out to the right. On third down, he didn't want to have to settle for stepping out of bounds or throwing the ball away so he kept his options open until the very last moment and when Herndon instinctively broke back to the inside to find a soft spot in the defense, Darnold anticipated this and made a well-placed throw on the move.
Darnold arguably started to get a bit too confident down the stretch, attempting a few risky throws when he perhaps could have settled for a safer dump-off or taken off for positive yardage. However, the playmaking ability he showcases on plays like this are what sets him apart from every other quarterback that has been the Jets' starter in recent years. When coupled with his arm talent, athleticism and burgeoning ability to read the field, the possibilities for his future are tantalizing.
Darnold made some dazzling plays in this game and the crew on the NFL Network broadcast were blown away by his performance, but he was unable to replicate his late game heroics from the Buffalo game. The Jets perhaps needed to show more patience with the game on the line, because each of their last two possessions opened with low-percentage throws that would ultimately land the team in 3rd-and-long and 4th-and-long situations. Whether the blame lies with the play calling or Darnold's decision-making is open for debate, though.
Aside from that, Darnold's performance showcaed everything you could have hoped to have seen from him and made him look like a potential star. We could be seeing the beginning of a process where Darnold is going to get better and better on a weekly basis. Next week's game, with a long week of preparation, will be important in terms of continuing to establish himself.