Pumping the brakes on Sam Darnold’s first Jets moment
11th December 2018

ORCHARD PARK — The Jets snapped their six-game skid with a comeback 27-23 win over the Bills on Sunday. Here are some thoughts and observations:

1. Sam Darnold had his first “moment” on Sunday. In leading the Jets to a fourth-quarter comeback, Darnold made two tremendous throws and showed the poise that made the Jets fall in love with him. Now, the question becomes whether that moment is a sign of things to come or just a mirage.

In the afterglow of this game, it is easy to say, “He has arrived.” But remember, Geno Smith once had a great night in Atlanta. Mark Sanchez led some amazing comebacks in Cleveland and Detroit. I’m not saying Darnold will end up like those two Jets washouts — I don’t think he will — but I also think everyone needs to take a breath and not crown the kid yet.

That being said, Darnold was impressive in that fourth quarter. I get why Jets fans who have endured so much poor quarterback play are giddy. He has rare instincts, which is what makes me believe he can be different than Smith and Sanchez, who struggled in that department. The touchdown pass to Robby Anderson was a thing of beauty. When he rolled right and had no one open, most quarterbacks would either force a throw or throw it away. For him to realize he could keep the play alive by going back to his left showed me something. Then he threw a strike to Anderson in the end zone.

The 37-yard pass to Anderson down the sideline showed his touch as a passer. He placed the ball perfectly.

Darnold showed a lot on Sunday. He also showed his toughness by returning from the foot injury he suffered in the first quarter. Glimpses of greatness is all you can hope for if you are a Jets fan watching them play out the string. You got that Sunday. Next year, you want to see consistency from Darnold, but right now you’ll take this moment.

2. Todd Bowles finally got aggressive. Going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line was absolutely the right call, but it is one he has not made enough during his time with the Jets. This one came three weeks before he is expected to get fired. Bowles said after the game that it was not a difficult decision because they came to win. It made you wonder where that aggressive attitude has been in so many fourth quarters we’ve seen, when he punted when he should have gone for it or took a field goal.

Sunday was a good moment for Bowles, not only with the play call at the end but also with the adjustment he made at halftime to stop Josh Allen from running. It is too little, too late for him. His fate was sealed after the 41-10 loss to the Bills at MetLife Stadium, but you have to give Bowles credit for the way he has handled this situation. He is still coaching his team. He could have mailed in these last few weeks, but he hasn’t.

3. The fourth-quarter heroics from Darnold covered up some blemishes the Jets showed yet again. It was stunning to see Allen running all over the Jets in the first half. He had 87 yards at halftime. The Jets had talked about containing him all week. Bowles said people were just blowing their assignments. They made some changes at halftime and it worked, but it was still startling to see how poorly the defense handled him early in the game.

It looked like it would be a long day for the offense early. They had a broken play on third down on their first series. It looked like Darnold expected Elijah McGuire to go one way and he went another. Darnold ended up running the ball and injuring his foot. It is well known that teams script their first 15 plays, so the Jets should have practiced this play many times this week. How does it go so wrong?

Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates had a really nice run of calling plays late in the game. I thought he pressed the right buttons down the stretch. But the offense sputtered again for much of the day. They ended up running just 54 plays in the game. If it was not for Andre Roberts’ big returns and Jamal Adams’ fumble recovery in the first half, they may not have scored the 13 points they did. They had three three-and-outs out of 11 possessions. Bates again seemed to be holding Darnold back, calling runs on what felt like every first down.

The win covered up the problems for one day, but if you looked close enough, you could see the problems are still there.

4. The Jets found out about Darron Lee’s suspension on Thursday and had 1½ days to prepare for his absence. Neville Hewitt and Kevin Pierre-Louis did a great job stepping in for Lee and made you wonder if they should have been playing more all along. Lee improved in coverage this year, but he still struggled in run defense. Hewitt was second on the team with seven tackles on Sunday. He also had half a sack. Pierre-Louis, who played a lesser role, had a sack and a forced fumble in the game.

Hewitt and Pierre-Louis have been special teams players this season, but the coaching staff may have erred by not getting them on the field on defense more and not relying on Lee to be an every-down player.

Surprising snap count: WR Jermaine Kearse only played 28 of the 54 offensive snaps. The Jets definitely went run-heavy, and that contributed to him being off the field, but you also wonder if the coaches’ trust in Kearse has diminished as he has struggled this season.

Revealing stat: Darnold scrambled 46.8 yards on the 7-yard touchdown pass to Anderson, according to Next Gen Stats. That is the most scramble yards by a quarterback on a pass attempt since Next Gen began tracking the statistic in 2016.

Game ball: Darnold gets it. Who else? He came up clutch in the fourth quarter and had two monster passes that have Jets fans dreaming of the future.

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