When Sam Darnold limped off to the locker room after the Jets' first series, it looked like this season was going to go from bad to much worse. This season had always been about him. But he had already missed three games with a foot injury after three terrible performances.
And now he was going to be out again?
Well, though it wasn't exactly a Willis Reed performance, Darnold returned quickly enough to give some life and hope to what's left of this Jets season. He went 12 of 18 for 139 yards in the second half and led a game-winning touchdown drive in the final two minutes to give the Jets a 27-23 win over the Buffalo Bills.
Yes, the Jets are only 4-9 and they are still eliminated from playoff contention. But this game could turn out to be an important turning point in the development of their franchise quarterback.
With eyes on what they hope will be a better future, here are five questions that came out of the Jets' dramatic win:
1. Was Darnold's performance good enough to finally prove the Jets have found their savior?
One performance in a rookie season for a quarterback should never be enough for that, but for a 21-year-old to lead a team down the field like that in the final seconds, that's pretty impressive. The drive included a perfect 37-yard pass to Robby Anderson that got the Jets to the Buffalo 5. It included a gutsy, third-down dive for the end zone that ended at the Buffalo 1. And it included Darnold not making the big mistake that could've killed their last chance to win.
It certainly was a sign of Todd Bowles' faith in Darnold that he didn't kick the field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 1. Yes, the game-winner was an Elijah McGuire run, but don't discount the calls Darnold made at the line to make it happen. All of it is an important step in the development of a quarterback who had been struggling the last time he was on the field.
2. Are special teams the best part of the Jets this year?
Crazy, right? But it sure looks like it's true. Aside from the little part about Andre Roberts fumbling the opening kickoff of the second half -- a terrible mistake that could've cost the Jets the game -- it's really remarkable what they've done this season, and what they did on Sunday.
Roberts, who deserves a spot in the Pro Bowl, had returns of 51 and 86 yards. That gave him six punt or kickoff returns or 50 or more yards this season. Entering play Sunday, no one else in the NFL had more than two. Plus, Jason Myers -- arguably the Jets MVP -- added two more field goals. And the Jets blocked a Steve Hauschka field goal, too.
That's really unbelievable for a unit that had been a disaster for years.
3. Does this win change anything about Todd Bowles' future?
Doubtful. It's really too little, too late. The Jets players certainly seemed happy after the game, celebrating wildly in the locker room, and the fact that they fought to the end like that always reflects well on the head coach.
But what took so long? That fight had been missing for weeks. And it's not like Bowles looked a lot better in this game. The Jets still made too many mistakes. They defense, supposedly his strength, still was pushed around. And they still had too many penalties (7 for 93 yards).
If the Jets somehow were to win their last three games and look impressive doing it, maybe they could get CEO Christopher Johnson to rethink his next move. But by now, Johnson has likely seen all he needs to see of Bowles to make his final decision.
4. Why don't the Jets let Darnold throw deep more?
Good question. They certainly should have let him try earlier. He has a good, fast deep weapon in Anderson, and they proved that when they connected deep late in the game. Far too many of Darnold's passes were short or screens. After three weeks out, it looked like offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates really went conservative, as Darnold was only 4 of 6 for 41 yards in the first half.
By this point in the season, the Jets should be seeing what Darnold has in him. Open up the playbook. See if he can win a game with his arm. The fact that they're still running a conservative, bland scheme is a big reason why Bates isn't likely to be back next season, and a big reason why Bowles is probably gone, too.
5. Was the defense prepared for Bills QB Josh Allen?
Remember earlier in the season when rookie QB Baker Mayfield came in for the second half for the Cleveland Browns and he rallied them over the Jets? And how afterward, Jets safety Jamal Adams said the Jets were unprepared for Mayfield? And remember how the Jets seemed to unprepared for Bills quarterback Matt Barkley a few weeks ago when he torched them 41-10?
Well, the Jets have no excuses this time. They knew Allen was starting. They spent the week talking about how they had to be prepared for his running ability after he ran for 234 yards on 22 carries the previous two weeks. So what happened? It sure looked like the Jets weren't prepared as Allen rushed nine times for 101 yards.
Either the players aren't listening, what the coaches say isn't registering or the defensive scheme just isn't good. Whatever it is, it is a continually bad look.