Jets fans filled the Meadowlands on Sunday afternoon, hoping to see for themselves what all the Sam Darnold excitement was about. Instead, they got reminder of the truth about rookie quarterbacks: No matter how good they are, they all struggle and make inexcusable mistakes.
In other words, The Darnold Era hit its first bump in the road.
It's not that Darnold was bad. He wasn't. He 25 of 41 for 334 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, and he had some really terrific throws and moments in the Jets' 20-12 loss to the Miami Dolphins. It's just that he did what he mostly avoided doing in the opener last Monday night. He made some big mistakes in some big spots.
For example, his first interception was easily avoidable. He just never saw Miami safety T.J. McDonald cutting across the field in front of receiver Quincy Enunwa. The result was an easy interception for McDonald that set the Dolphins up at the Jets' 15, leading to their first touchdown of the game.
And there was more. Darnold surely will have nightmares about his last two passes of the first half, with the Jets down 20-0. From his own 14 he had Enunwa wide open - I mean, completely uncovered - across the field and in the back of the end zone. But Darnold overthrew him and sailed it out the back of the end zone instead.
Then on the next play, with 10 seconds left and no timeouts, he threw to tight end Chris Herndon in the middle of the field, short of the end zone. Herndon was tackled at the 1 as time expired, wasting a huge opportunity.
And then, early in the fourth quarter, after a sack-fumble by Jets linebacker Jordan Jenkins set Darnold and the Jets up at the Miami 12, Darnold threw a terrible pass, way in front of Terrelle Pryor in the back of the end zone that was picked off by Miami cornerback Xavien Howard. Another terrible waste.
Darnold wasn't the only one who made killer mistakes in this loss, but his were just more glaring since everyone was looking to see something special from him. There was a lot to like, of course. He made some great plays, particularly when he was outside of the pocket.
But … well, no one ever said the rise of Sam Darnold was going to be easy. There will be many better days ahead for Darnold. But for rookie quarterbacks, things are never as smooth as they seemed last Monday night.
Here are a few other notes and observations from the Jets' disappointing home opener …
- The Jets' defense wasn't bad for most of the game, all things considered. They forced two turnovers and sacked Miami QB Ryan Tannehill four times. And that doesn't include the two third-down sacks that were negated by defensive holding penalties. Of course, those penalties were huge and costly. The first time that happened - a Mo Claiborne hold on a Leonard Williams sack - was a killer. It led to the Dolphins' third touchdown of the game. The Dolphins only had 199 total yards heading into their final drive. That drive, though, was bad. The Jets needed one stop to give Darnold a last chance and couldn't get it.
- The Jets' offensive line, that looked so good in the opener, did not hold up well at all under the weight of trying to block Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn. They actually looked decent on the first drive, opening up some huge holes for Isaiah Crowell. But after that, their pass blocking didn't hold up well. Darnold was sacked twice, rushed on many more throws, and chased from the pocket several times, too.
- Given the offensive line struggles it's a bit of mystery why Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates didn't call more rollouts for Darnold. One of the best things about the rookie quarterback - and one of the reasons Todd Bowles gave for starting him from Day 1 - was his mobility and ability to throw on the run. When he did go on the move, he found receivers. But he was anchored to the pocket way too much.
- The Jets had 42 rushing yards. Bilal Powell was terrible with six yards on five carries. Isaiah Crowell's numbers were better - 35 yards on 12 carries. Then again, he had 14 yards on his first two carries and it was all downhill from there.
- The Jets think they got a steal in tight end Chris Herndon when they drafted him in the fourth round out of Miami, but he's got some work to do, too. On the ill-advised play at the end of the first half, he actually fumbled the ball at the 1. He did pick it up, though, and still had a chance to get into the end zone, but never reached out for the goal line. In the second half, he had an even worse play. On a 2nd and 10, Darnold made an amazing spin to avoid a pass rush and found a wide open Herndon about 25 yards down field and in Miami territory. Herndon dropped the pass.
- Defensive end Henry Anderson, whom the Jets acquired in the offseason for a seventh-round pick, is proving to be well worth that low price. He was excellent in the opener and a factor in this game, too, especially early. He had a sack and several pressures and could become just enough of a factor to get Leonard Williams loose on the other end of the line.
- The Jets were oddly unprepared for Ryan Tannehill's runs. He carried five times for 47 yards, starting with a 20-yard bootleg on the first play of the game and ending it with an eight-yard run for a first down at the two-minute warning that put the Jets' comeback hopes out of reach. He fooled them every time.