Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter
In Sunday's 24-22 win over the Cowboys, Jets quarterback Sam Darnold returned to the lineup in style, completing 23 of 32 passes for 338 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
Let's look at some specific examples before we draw conclusions...
First quarter, 14:56. No score. First play of the game at the Jets' 18-yard line.
It didn't take Darnold long to underscore the fact that they had upgraded significantly at the quarterback position. On the very first snap, the Jets lined up with "11" personnel, left the tight end in to block and ran a play-action pass. Darnold connected down the field with Demaryius Thomas on a deep over route.
Already you could see the difference not only from Luke Falk, but also from Darnold's own performance in Week 1, where he only hit on one intermediate route in the entire game.
Darnold's first six passes were completed to six different players, as he the offense immediately took on a more varied look than in the past few games. That included a touch pass over the top to Jamison Crowder that was perfectly dropped in the bucket.
Second quarter, 3:46. Jets leading 7-3. First-and-10 at the Jets' 8-yard line.
You often hear analysts talk about taking a shot after a sudden change, but it's rare to see this from inside your 10-yard line. Everybody knows about Robby Anderson's ability to get behind the defense on a double-move, but on opening day, had Darnold misfired three times on deep balls where Anderson had a step.
Once again, this play saw the Jets in "11" personnel with the tight end staying in to pass protect. Darnold's throw was perfect, and Anderson was able to catch it in stride and race away from the defense for a 92-yard touchdown.
If Darnold can throw the deep ball as accurately as this all season, Anderson should put up some big numbers over the rest of the year. That will also help to open up a lot of underneath stuff, including for Anderson himself.
Third quarter, 2:40. Jets leading 21-9. Third-and-5 at the Cowboys' 11-yard line.
Darnold's one bad mistake came as the Jets had a chance to put the game to bed, but his interception let the Cowboys back into the game and ultimately set up a nail-biting conclusion.
This was perhaps a case of Darnold feeling a little too confident after having hit on his previous nine throws for 109 yards. The timing was off on his throw to Crowder and his placement was a little high.
However, he bounced back nicely in the fourth quarter, stepping up to elude pressure and hit Crowder for 30 down the middle and then hitting Anderson on a timing route outside for 18 more to set up a crucial field goal.
While the Jets had been the subject of much derision over the first four games, there was always a lingering hope that Darnold's return would change everything. As anticipated, his return had a tangible effect on several areas where the team had been struggling.
Didn't it seem like Adam Gase's playcalling make a lot more sense with Darnold executing? Gase wasn't necessarily calling different plays -- although they did work in some RPO-style looks. Darnold was just making the right decision and finding the open man at a much more efficient clip. In addition, once you start to establish tempo and rhythm and get multiple players involved rather than forcing it to your main options, that's when you can start to exploit mismatches to get people open in space.
The offensive line was still letting defensive players into the backfield at a sometimes-alarming rate, but instead of taking a sack, Darnold was anticipating this and getting rid of the ball or stepping up to extend the play and keeping his head up to find something down the field or underneath. Had Darnold been as indecisive as Falk was last week, he could easily have been sacked 10 times too.
As for the wide receivers, they all stepped up as well. Anderson had a break-out game, Thomas and Crowder were as productive as they've been all year and Darnold even got some production from the tight end position. However, as Gase pointed out during the week, players like Anderson have been getting open. It just makes such a difference to have someone who can actually get them the ball.
Darnold's performance wasn't perfect, but that's exciting because you can sense there is the potential for him to have even bigger games than this one in the weeks ahead. For now, though, his return provided a much-needed shot of confidence and belief and the team can look to build on this win.