Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter
In Sunday's 42-34 win over the Colts, Jets QB Sam Darnold put together his most complete performance as a pro, completing 24 of 30 passes for 280 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
Let's look at some specific examples before we draw conclusions...
1st quarter, 1:01. Jets leading 10-7. 3rd-and-4 at the Jets' 33
The Colts haven't given up a 40-yard play all season, so this was a game where Darnold was going to have to make good decisions and take what the defense gave him. He did that, completing 80 percent of his passes. However, his one big mistake on the day underlined the importance of that factor.
Although Darnold completed 11 of his first 12 passes, two of those ended up in turnovers, helping the Colts take a 13-10 second quarter lead. One of these wasn't Darnold's fault, as Quincy Enunwa lost a fumble. However, his first quarter interception was avoidable.
THE BALLHAWK! pic.twitter.com/mQIDP1Zs4f- Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) October 14, 2018
The Jets lined up in a five-wide formation and, in retrospect, Darnold probably should have dumped it off to Neal Sterling underneath. Instead, he tried to hit Robby Anderson over the top. Unfortunately, Brian Winters got blown up in pass protection and Darnold bailed out of the throw -- which was underthrown -- enabling Malik Hooker to range over for the interception.
Even if Darnold was intending that to be a back-shoulder throw, it was still underthrown and too far to the inside. The most important thing is that he didn't repeat the mistake.
2nd quarter, 2.39. Jets trailing 13-10. 2nd-and-goal at the Indianapolis 7
On a day when they settled for seven field goals, it's reasonable to question the Jets' red zone offense. However, Darnold succeeded here, connecting on a tight window throw to Pryor at the goal line. This was a well-timed throw, released as Pryor was uncovering underneath and zipped in between two defenders.
It was especially encouraging to see Darnold and Pryor connect in the red zone after they got their wires crossed in the same situation a few weeks ago, leading to a costly interception.
2nd quarter, 0:18. Jets leading 20-13. 2nd-and-1 at the Colts' 36
Darnold's throw down the middle to Jermaine Kearse here changed what would have been a long field goal into a much shorter kick. However, it was what came afterwards that was most impressive. Darnold calmly got his team lined up, allowed them to get set and was able to spike the ball to stop the clock with three seconds remaining. This seems simple, but it's a situation recent Jets quarterbacks have usually messed up in.
3rd quarter, 12:10. Jets leading 23-13. 1st-and-10 at the Colts' 32
This was a tendency-breaker from the Jets, as they set this play up to look like their oft-used receiver screen. Both "blockers" leaked out downfield and Darnold had an easy throw to Jordan Leggett down the seam. However, he smartly lofted the ball with touch to Chris Herndon on the outside instead and Herndon was able to take it to the end zone.
4th quarter, 14:08. Jets leading 33-27. 2nd-and-20 at the Jets' 15
With the game still in the balance, this was arguably Darnold's biggest throw, as he hit Kearse in stride on a slant pattern for the first down. If that drive had stalled, the Colts would have had the momentum and could have gone on to win. Darnold hit Kearse for a key third down conversion near midfield later on the same drive to set up a field goal and make it a two-possession game. The pair seem to be developing good chemistry in clutch situations.
We should be wary of assuming Darnold has completely figured out the quarterback position at the NFL level and expecting a performance like this from him every week. As good as he was, he was exploiting a Colts defense that had an injury-ravaged defensive line and secondary. This forced them to simplify some of their coverages and left some of their reserves overmatched in man coverage.
However, Darnold made the most of these advantages with an efficient display, making routine timing routes look straightforward all day. This is something he wasn't doing with the same level of consistency as recently as a few weeks ago.
The next frontier for Darnold will be to play like this when he's under heavier pressure. The Jets mostly kept him clean on Sunday, but a large part of that was the fact that the Colts hardly ever blitzed. Although Minnesota has been without Everson Griffin, they've been getting good pass rushing contributions from Danielle Hunter and Stephen Weatherly, so next Sunday's game should provide a bigger test.
After the Vikings game, the Jets head back on the road. And that's somewhere else Darnold needs to prove himself after rocky outings in Cleveland and Jacksonville.