The Sam Darnold Hype Train gained plenty of momentum on Friday night.
The Jets rookie quarterback impressed in his preseason debut, throwing a touchdown pass in a 17-0 win over the Falcons at MetLife Stadium. You can’t put him in the Hall of Fame just yet, but Darnold showed enough to have Jets fans salivating. He completed 13-of-18 for 96 yards and one touchdown, but it was more about the qualities he showed than the stats he put up.
Darnold entered the game with 8:41 left in the second quarter and played the rest of the way. His first series ended with a punt, but he led the Jets to the end zone on his second drive, capping it off with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Charles Johnson.
Darnold showed why he was drafted No. 3 overall in April and why people are giddy about his potential to be the franchise quarterback the Jets have been searching for since Joe Namath left town.
The mobility, arm strength and poise that separated Darnold at USC were on display against the Atlanta backups. There was nothing that indicated the game was too big for Darnold and he made plays that rookies usually do not.
On the touchdown drive, there were a few throws that stood out above the others. He threw an 18-yard pass to Clive Walford in which he avoided the pass rush, stepped up and delivered a strike on a long throw to the sideline. That throw put the Jets in the red zone.
A penalty moved the ball to the Atlanta 3-yard line. Darnold targeted Johnson on first down, but Johnson dropped the would-be touchdown. Two plays later, Darnold connected with Johnson for a touchdown that was nullified by a penalty on Johnson for pushing off. They finally got the touchdown on the third try. Operating from the 14-yard line on third-and-goal, Darnold stepped up and then ran to his right. It looked like he might tuck the ball and run, but he hit Johnson with a strike in the front corner of the end zone for the score.
The first drive of the third quarter stalled at the Jets’ own 22. Darnold was almost intercepted by Falcons cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, but it appeared there was a miscommunication with wide receiver ArDarius Stewart that caused the near pick.
The 21-year-old Darnold entered the game after Josh MCown and Teddy Bridgewater. Jets coach Todd Bowles has insisted his depth chart has Darnold as the No. 3 quarterback behind the two veterans, but it is going to be hard to keep it that way if the rookie keeps playing like he has in training camp and as he did on Friday night.
The only blip for Darnold was what appeared to be a minor injury to his left hand after he scrambled on his first drive. It looked like he got stepped on and may have cut his hand. He wore a glove on the hand in the second half.
McCown played just one series in the game. He completed the one pass he attempted for 4 yards.
Bridgewater replaced McCown, getting his first extended action since the 2016 preseason with the Vikings, just before he suffered a severe left knee injury that sidelined him for the past two seasons. Bridgewater looked very good in his Jets debut. He completed 5-of-6 passes for 60 yards and one touchdown. He showed no signs of rust or any issues with his knee.
If Darnold continues to play well and pass each test the Jets put in front of him, Bridgewater likely will be dangled in trade talks as the regular season approaches. The Jets would not need to keep all three quarterbacks entering the season if they feel good about Darnold playing and he and McCown stay healthy.
The Jets defense held down a Falcons team that did not play star wide receiver Julio Jones or running back Devonta Freman. Quarterback Matt Ryan played one series.
The Jets now head to Virginia for joint practices with the Redskins on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
They face the Redskins in their next preseason game on Thursday night at FedEx Field.
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