He received a rousing ovation from the home crowd as he ran onto the field, and he didn’t disappoint. Showing unusual poise for a rookie, he completed eight of his first nine attempts. Some of his best throws came on the move as he eluded pressure.
“I felt pretty good,” Darnold said. “I put the ball where it needed to be and tried to get it in the hands of our playmakers. There were a couple of plays, especially on the sack, I felt like I could’ve gotten the ball out there. But, you know, live and learn, I guess.”
Darnold replaced backup Teddy Bridgewater, who also made a bid for the starting job. In his first extensive action in two years, Bridgewater completed 7 of 8 passes for 85 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown pass to running back Isaiah Crowell.
Jets rookie QB Sam Darnold reacts to his NFL preseason debut on Friday night and the response the fans gave him throughout the night.
Jets coach Todd Bowles could have a tough decision at quarterback. He has two proven veterans in Bridgewater and incumbent Josh McCown, plus a promising rookie in Darnold. The organization’s intention is to give Darnold every chance to win the job.
“We’ll see how the preseason goes,” Bowles said. “I’ll make my decision when it happens. I’m not going to jump to any conclusions after one game. It’s a tough decision. We’ve got three good players.”
Bowles said Darnold “looked comfortable.”
“He was excited going out there,” Bowles said. “He had a smile on his face the whole time, so I think he enjoyed himself.”
Darnold entered the game with 8 minutes, 41 seconds remaining in the second quarter. On his second possession, he orchestrated a 10-play, 64-yard touchdown drive, ending with his 14-yard scoring pass to Charles Johnson.
The former USC star demonstrated his improvisational skill, stepping up in the pocket and throwing on the run to Johnson in the corner of the end zone. Darnold was persistent, overcoming a would-be touchdown that was dropped by Johnson and an offensive pass-interference penalty on Johnson that nullified a scoring pass.
Darnold wore a glove on his left (non-throwing) hand in the second half after getting it stepped on at the end of a second-quarter scramble. He cooled off in the second half, generating no points.
Bridgewater also impressed in his Jets debut, leading scoring drives in his only two possessions (a touchdown and field goal) and hitting seven different receivers.
The former Vikings starter fought back from a horrific knee injury suffered Aug. 30, 2016. He missed the 2016 season and played only a handful of snaps last season in one mop-up appearance. Earlier in the week, Bridgewater said it gives him “chills” when considering his two-year journey back to football.
“It was awesome feeling,” Bridgewater said. “I was at peace out there. I was so excited. … It felt good getting hit. You never want the quarterback to get hit, but for me it was like, man, it was the final step of the process. Got hit, got right back up. It served as a reminder that the game is still the same. It’s still a physical game and the hits still feel the same.”
McCown (1-for-1, 4 yards) started the game but played only one series.
Darnold said the night was key in his transition to the NFL.
“The hashes are so much closer than college,” Darnold said. “So I feel like I can see the field a little bit clearer in a weird way. It’s really nice to get that width and be able to see what exactly the coverage is. You can tell right way whether it’s man or zone, which is really cool.
“I think that’s just one of the things I’ve been working on it practice is determining man, zone, one high, two high, those simple things that help you so much in determining what side to go to, because once you eliminate one side and work on one side it makes the game a lot easier.”