Sam Darnold did not have his finest game on Thursday night. And it looked a lot worse compared to what Baker Mayfield was doing for the other team.
In the first matchup of the first two quarterbacks taken in the 2018 draft, Mayfield won in a landslide, coming in late in the first half for the injured Tyrod Taylor and sending a jolt of electricity through the Browns' otherwise-dead offense. He completed 17 of 23 passes for 201 yards in the Browns' 21-17 win.
Darnold, meanwhile, slogged through a forgettable performance, completing 15 of 31 passes for 169 yards. He also threw a terrible pass that was intercepted by linebacker Joe Schobert, who was standing right in front of Jets receiver Jermaine Kearse that essentially ended the game with less than two minutes to go.
(He threw another interception with 11 seconds remaining, but the game was really over by then).
It's bad enough that Darnold lost to Mayfield, of course. But he - and the Jets - became the first team to lose to the Browns since Christmas Eve, 2016. The Browns have now won just 1 of their last 20 games - this one. They're 2 for their last 38 and 3 for their last 45.
That's pretty embarrassing. It's worse because the Jets were up 14-0 at one point.
It's not all on Darnold, of course, and one game doesn't make a career. But the contrast was stark, considering how well Mayfield was able to move the Browns offense - which is something that Darnold has yet to really do consistently with the Jets. Of course, Mayfield was relatively fresh and coming in off the bench - which may have been an advantage.
Remember, Darnold was finishing up a stretch of three games - his first three NFL games - in just 11 days.
Overall he fared relatively well, but the Jets finished the stretch 1-2 and if he was a little better in this game they could've easily been 2-1.
Here are a few other notes and observations from the Jets' Thursday night loss to the Browns …
- The Jets were coming after Taylor from the start of the game and didn't let up for the entire first half. They sacked him four times and had at least one more that was called a run. And it came from everywhere on a maddening series of blitzes. So where was that when Mayfield came in? The rookie came in for his first NFL action and the Jets just didn't seem to come after him the same way at all. They also were in a zone in the secondary, which left Mayfield plenty of places to throw. It felt like the Jets hadn't really prepared to play a rookie quarterback at all.
- Real strange game for Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates. His strategy early was good - pounding the Browns with the run and quick passes to keep their pass rush off balance. But as the game went on, he couldn't find ways to help Darnold move the ball. And again, everything was conservative. Darnold didn't take many shots downfield
- Oh, and speaking of Bates' play calling: It's time to rip out all the pages of the playbook that call for Darnold to throw back across the field. He did it again, on the second play of the game, when he rolled right and threw back across to his left (towards tight end Chris Herndon). It was a dangerous pass that went for a big loss. I guess they had the element of surprise, though. I mean, after a cross-field pass turned into an interception on the first play of the season, who would've ever thought Bates would have Darnold do something similar again?
- The Jets' first touchdown was set up by a blocked punt by LB Kevin Pierre-Louis. That's the second time in two weeks that the Jets' special teams came up huge. If that's not the most unexpected development of this season, I don't know what is.
- The Jets have some really stupid moments - Isaiah Crowell getting a 15-yard celebration penalty for pretending to wipe his butt with the football, for example - but Jets CB Trumaine Johnson got a raw deal on a second-half drive when he was flagged for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. OK, he could've avoided the first one, where he held the football at Browns WR Jarvis Landry's chest on the sidelines. We've all seen a lot worse, though. His second penalty came when he hit Browns QB Tyrod Taylor in the head, which is accurate. But Taylor was sliding at the time. It was hard to see how Johnson could've avoided that.
- After the Browns pulled within 14-12 late in the third quarter, the Jets defense looked completely lost before the snap of the two-point conversion. Players were moving and pointing everywhere, they were all looking at each other and talking. So why not call a timeout? They were even more confused when the Browns ran a Wildcat-like play to perfection, with Jarvis Landry throwing a left-handed pass to Baker Mayfield in the end zone. They waste timeouts all the time, but not there?
- S Jamal Adams is on his way to being one of the best safeties in the NFL. He was all over the field in this game, especially pass rushing and stopping the run. He plays the game like a linebacker - and a really good one, at that.
- Darnold hasn't really gotten WR Robby Anderson involved in the offense through the first three games - and maybe that's a good thing. For the second time in two weeks Anderson turned a key catch into a dangerous fumble. Last week it led to a Dolphins touchdown. This time it led to a Browns field goal in the third quarter.
- The Jets had good success with three quick screen passes to Quincy Enunwa on the right side of the field. All of them worked because of some huge blocking by Jermaine Kearse. That's a very underrated part of his game.
- Did Terrelle Pryor play in this game? Oh wait, that was him with a 25-yard catch on the last drive of the game. He was just completely invisible before that.