EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Miami Dolphins only led by eight points when they got the ball back with 5:56 left in the game. One stop, like maybe on the third-and-19 with 3:36 remaining, and Sam Darnold would've gotten the ball back in his hands with a chance to tie the game.
Everyone in the Meadowlands wanted to see that. And everyone felt confident that the way Darnold was playing, if it actually happened, the Jets would've had a pretty decent shot.
And that's all that anyone needs to remember from Darnold's home debut on Sunday. No, he never got the ball back to prove that point. Yes, the result was disappointing. Yes, he made too many rookie mistakes.
But no, nothing that happened changed the overall feeling that the Jets finally have their franchise quarterback. Darnold gave everyone, especially his teammates, reason to believe that many better days are ahead of him.
And he continues to give everyone who watches the Jets a reason for hope.
The 21-year-old completed 25 of 41 passes for 334 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's 20-12 loss to the Dolphins. That's a pretty good day … until you factor in the two interceptions, one which set the Dolphins up for an easy touchdown, and the other coming in the end zone robbing the Jets of a touchdown of their own.
That was the game right there, along with the forgettable final two plays of the first half (more on those in a moment). It was a game that, thanks largely to Darnold's early mistakes, the Jets trailed 20-0 at the half.
In most seasons, that's reason for the fans to head back to the parking lot. But these just aren't the same, old Jets. After a near miss at the end of the first half, which ended with tight end Chris Herndon about an inch from the goal line, he drove the Jets right down the field for a touchdown on the opening drive of the first half.
And even after he killed the Jets' momentum by getting picked off in the end zone on his very next pass, he still managed to lead two more field goal drives.
Seriously, when's the last time the Jets had a quarterback that made anyone feel like they still had a shot in a 20-0 game at halftime? When's the last time Jets fans left a close loss knowing in their hearts that things could have -- would have -- been different if their quarterback had gotten the ball back just one more time?
Sure, 50 years ago when Joe Namath was under center. But has any quarterback really given Jets fans a reason to believe quite like this?
That's not to say Darnold's day was wonderful. Not at all. "There are some things he can do better," Jets head coach Todd Bowles said. "I'm not saying he played a great game. I'm not saying he played a bad game."
Good, because neither of those things would be true. It was a game of "missed opportunites" as Darnold noted. Some his teammates missed for him. Some he missed himself.
"I think that goes for every game that you lose," Darnold said. "You look back on all the plays that you wish you could have back."
The biggest one, of course, was the early interception where he admitted never saw safety T.J. McDonald cutting across the field. It was an easy pick and set the Dolphins up at the Jets' 15 for an easy touchdown. He probably wants the play back at the end of the first half when he missed a wide-open Quincy Enunwa in the end zone, though Darnold said he never actually saw Enunwa and was just trying to throw the ball away. And he also surely wanted back the interception by Xavier Howard in the end zone, though receiver Terrelle Pryor later took responsibility for that one, saying he mis-ran his route.
Pryor said he let Darnold down, and in truth he wasn't alone. The Jets' offensive line, which was so good in the opener, couldn't open up the run game and kept Darnold under pressure all day long. Herndon dropped a wide-open pass in the third quarter and couldn't reach out for the end zone after catching the final pass of the first half.
Bowles didn't help with his clock management at the end of the first half either, when maybe it would've been smarter to kick the field goal. And offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates could've helped more with his young quarterback under siege by having him roll out more, since every time he escaped the pocket he seemed to make a play. He also probably shouldn't have called a play at the end of the first half that involved any receivers short of the end zone.
Young quarterbacks need help. But the Jets are still a young, rebuilding team, and help won't always be there. That's going to lead to mistakes that are just too much to overcome.
But that shouldn't dampen anyone's spirits. This season isn't all about wins and losses; it's about growth -- particularly at the quarterback position. They need Darnold to keep taking steps forward, keep learning, keep showing signs he'll be ready to lead a contender next season.
One loss, no matter how ugly Darnold's mistakes seemed to be, shouldn't kill anyone's excitement about that.