Sam Darnold’s incredible magic changes everything for Jets
By Steve Serby
October 13, 2019 | 8:29pm
The ball was launched high and far, and Robby Anderson was way past Chidobe Awuzie and all alone near midfield, and that part of MetLife Stadium that had not been overtaken by Cowboys fans exploded with a roar when it came down in Anderson’s hands, and Jeff Heath dove and missed, and Anderson was gone. It was a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, and this was the moment, this 92-yard touchdown pass, when Sam Darnold announced his return loud and clear. “It was good to hear the fans roar again and be out there on the field with my teammates,” Darnold said after Jets 24, Cowboys 22. “There’s no better feeling. When you’re out for so long like I was, you realize that this game’s a privilege to play it, so it was just good to be out there.” Welcome back, Sam Darnold. Welcome back from mononucleosis.
Welcome back from hell. Darnold (23-for-32, 338 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) began motoring upfield to celebrate with his teammates, who had missed their franchise quarterback every bit as much as he had missed them. For too long, Darnold had been contagious and quarantined, but on this day, his fearlessness and brilliance were infectious. This is what franchise quarterbacks do, they lift their franchise in its most desperate hour, make everyone around him better. And Adam Gase sure looked like a better coach than he did with Luke Falk playing quarterback for him, didn’t he? The Cowboys placed a bull’s-eye on Le’Veon Bell and dared Darnold to beat them. So he did.
Far more importantly, Darnold’s spleen, covered by specialized padding, thankfully stood up to the several hits he took, and that was a relief to everyone. He endured a horse-collar tackle by Maliek Collins on a mad dash — when Darnold saw daylight up the middle that preceded Bell’s 2-yard TD run. “I took a couple of shots,” Darnold said, “but it didn’t affect me at all.” It had gotten late early around here, and it is still late at 1-4. But better late than never. “Just hearing his voice on the cadence and stuff like that, it’s unmatched when you got your guy in there, and it showed today,” Bell said. Darnold had seized his welcome-back moment immediately after Gang Green had staged a defiant goal-line stand, Quinnen Williams and Jamal Adams stuffing Dak Prescott on a fourth-and-2 scramble at the 7. “That just gave us more mojo,” Adams said. And Darnold craved more mojo. He hit Demaryius Thomas for 33 yards and tight end Ryan Griffin with the 5-yard TD that gave the Jets a 21-3 lead. “Sam wasn’t drafted in the top five for no reason,” Adams said. “He’s a helluva quarterback, a helluva leader and a helluva competitor.” Then Sam had to hang on for dear life. It all came down to a two-point conversion. Prescott had capitalized on three pass interference penalties and capped a desperation drive with a 4-yard TD run with 43 seconds left. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams called for an Adams blitz, and Prescott threw incomplete over the middle for Jason Witten. “That’s just finishing, man,” Adams said. Prescott previously had marched the Cowboys 84 yards in 11 plays, and Ezekiel Elliott’s 5-yard TD run made it 21-16. Darnold had it back with 6:21 left. His offense had sputtered down the stretch. He had thrown an interception behind Crowder in the red zone. The momentum had shifted. “I just made a really bad throw and a really bad read,” Darnold said.
Cowboys fans were chanting, “Dee-fense.” And Darnold stepped up in the pocket and on the move threw a 30-yard completion to Crowder. “They hooked up at the right time,” Gase said. Then a back-shoulder throw for Anderson for 19 more. He stalled at the 20. Sam Ficken booted the 38-yard field goal that made it 24-16. Darnold had found Thomas with a 17-yard play-action completion on his first play from scrimmage back since the opener and knew the day would go well. “I was just seeing things clearly,” Darnold said. Maybe this can still be his flight to stardom, riding shotgun alongside Gase and ending the Jets’ eight-year playoff drought at last. The hole they have dug for themselves remains deep. There is only a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel. But if this can be the start of the second-year leap the Jets were expecting Darnold to make, then he will keep hope alive. Welcome back, Sam Darnold.