EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - As the Jets celebrated the 50th anniversary of their last Super Bowl championship team, Sam Darnold gave them even more reason to believe that the next one won't be too far off.
The 21-year-old Darnold, in his first real shootout against a top tier NFL quarterback, out-played Andrew Luck on Sunday afternoon. He completed 24 of 30 passes for 280 yards with two touchdowns and one interception to lead the Jets to a 42-27 win over the Indianapolis Colts.
Luck was pretty good too (23 of 43, 301 yards and 4 touchdowns), except for the fact that he threw three interceptions. He also even nearly engineered a second-half comeback but fell an onside kickoff recovery short. But overall, Darnold was the more impressive quarterback for most of the game, after he shook off a shaky start. He did get help from a Jets defense that forced four turnovers, but the running game wasn't nearly as good as it has been.
This was the closest Darnold has had to come to carrying the team -- or at least the offense -- on his back. He did slow down a little in the second half when maybe he could've put the game away, and he nearly threw it away in the fourth quarter, but got lucky when Colts DE Jabaal Sheard dropped an easy interception. But he mostly managed to avoid making a momentum-swinging mistake.
He just continues to get better every week, making strong throws and smart decisions (mostly), and he keeps the offense moving. The Jets have now scored 30 points in three of their six games and in back-to-back weeks for the first time since the 2011 season.
That's just more proof that the first true franchise quarterback they've had since Joe Namath has finally arrived.
Here are more takeaways from the win that got the Jets to .500 at 3-3 …
- With Quincy Enunwa out for most of this game with an ankle injury he suffered in the first quarter, WR Jermaine Kearse re-emerged as a dependable possession receiver for Darnold, with 9 catches for 94 yards. He had several big catches on slants over the middle and a couple where he muscled his way to a first down.
- It may not have been the breakout game that rookie TE Chris Herndon believes is coming, but he did have two big catches for 56 yards and a touchdown. He was wide open on the easy touchdown. His best play, though, came along the sidelines early in the game when Darnold underthrew a pass that could've easily been picked off by Hooker. Herndon out-jumped him, though, and made the catch over him and landed in bounds for a 24-yard catch.
- The Jets' offensive line continues to improve. The pockets were generally clean for Darnold and there were plenty of holes for the running backs (Bilal Powell: 16 carries for 59 yards; Isaiah Crowell: 13 carries for 40 yards). It helps that offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates sticks with the running game. Of course, it also helps that they had a big lead. The one notable exception to that, though, is C Spencer Long who continues to have issues with shotgun snaps.
- The Jets' defense was playing without its top two cornerbacks -- Trumaine Johnson and Buster Skrine -- but the secondary was still tremendous. They made their mark early when a blitz by S Jamal Adams forced a dump-off by Andrew Luck that was tipped into the hands of CB Morris Claiborne for a pick-6. Rookie CB Parry Nickerson dropped an interception on the next series. And LB Avery Williamson's interception later in the half came off a tip from Claiborne. Luck didn't have a lot of open receivers to throw to in this game.
- The defense had plenty of great moments in this game -- like their second-quarter goal-line stand. The Colts were headed for a second touchdown when Jets safety Marcus Maye made a fantastic tackle at the 1 yard line, and that set the Jets' defense up for a fantastic goal-line stand. They got huge plays by DT Steve McLendon, LB Brandon Copeland and Williamson. The defense was mostly tremendous. That was part of two straight series where the Jets turned the ball over in their own territory, but the defense held the Colts to field goals.
- Jets kicker Jason Myers was 7-for-7 on field goals -- a new Jets record. It's worth remembering that the Jets claimed Myers off waivers from Seattle in late August because their kicking situation was unsettled all summer. Cairo Santos was battling a groin injury and Taylor Bertolet was inexperienced and inconsistent. They also worked out several kickers, but didn't sign them. Good non-move. He's 16 of 17 for the season.
- It wasn't all good for Darnold. His early interception was a pretty awful throw. Under pressure, he just heaved the ball downfield off his back foot in the general direction of Robby Anderson. The ball was woefully underthrown and Anderson never looked back until it was too late. That was an easy interception for Colts safety Malik Hooker.
- It's not just the production that gets scouts raving about Darnold -- it's the little things, too. Like late in the first half he tried a 22-yard pass to Anderson who was streaking down the left side. Darnold's pass was just off the fingertips of Anderson in the corner of the end zone. It was a near-perfect pass, maybe an inch off. There aren't a lot of quarterbacks who can make a better throw in that spot -- especially at 21 years old.
- The last two plays of the first half were beautiful for their execution. The Jets got the ball back at their own 28 with 42 seconds left and began marching down the field. They had a 2nd and 2 from the Colts 37 and Darnold threw a perfect pass over the middle to Kearse for 22 yards. The Jets had no timeouts, though, but managed to rush downfield and spike it with two seconds left - enough time for a 32-yard field goal.