EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Early in Sunday’s game, New York Jets coach Adam Gase made eye contact with Robby Anderson on the sideline. The frustrated wide receiver, a nonfactor in the first four games, didn’t need words to convey his feelings at that particular moment.
“I could see that Robby was giving me that look like, ‘You better call something deep here pretty soon,'” Gase said after the 24-22 win against the Dallas Cowboys. “I felt like it was the right time.”
After a fourth-down stop deep in Jets territory, Gase capitalized on the sudden change of possession by dialing up a deep pass for Anderson, who burned cornerback Chidobe Awuzie and hauled in a 92-yard touchdown — the second-longest touchdown reception in franchise history. It was the signature play in the Sam Darnold Return Game, and it epitomized a new dimension for the Jets’ offense.
Downfield passing. What a radical concept.
After three games of brutally ineffective and conservative playcalling, Gase felt liberated to have Darnold back. He must have felt like a New York City driver, hitting the open highway after weeks of going nowhere in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Offensively, that was the biggest takeaway from the Jets’ first win of the 2019 season. They were aggressive in the passing game, a mindset that should help them when the schedule softens after next Monday’s game against the New England Patriots (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).
“That was huge; that’s what this offense can do,” wide receiver Jamison Crowder said of the Anderson TD. “That’s Robby, his game, stretching the field. That’s one of the things we can continue to do going forward, building everybody’s confidence on offense and giving the coaches confidence to call those deep plays.”
Darnold, showing no signs of post-mononucleosis rustiness, recorded a career-high seven completions on passes that traveled at least 15 yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They totaled 240 yards, including his throw (40 air yards) to Anderson.
No, this doesn’t make the Jets (1-4) a high-powered offense, but it makes them watchable and it will cause problems for opponents in the coming weeks. Darnold did it behind the same offensive line that allowed 10 sacks last week, but he was able to avoid pressure with subtle movements in the pocket. He was able to duck and dodge and adjust his arm angle, fitting the ball in places where former QB Luke Falk couldn’t dream of going.
And it started on the first play, when he hit wide receiver Demaryius Thomas on a 17-yard crossing route. Right there, you knew it would be different.
“I was just seeing things clearly,” Darnold said. “It was just that kind of that day.”
For a change, the wide receivers seemed like part of the offense, not just guys running aimlessly on the perimeter. Anderson caught five for 125 yards, Crowder made six catches for 98 yards and Thomas had four for 62 yards. Even Ryan Griffin, the less-than-stealthy tight end, caught a touchdown pass. In a week or two, pass-catching tight end Chris Herndon should return from his hamstring injury, providing another contributor.
The 92-yarder to Anderson was everything the Jets had been missing. (In fact, it eclipsed Falk’s passing total in each of the past two games.) Darnold had time to throw — 3.0 seconds, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Anderson got separation, although not a lot — 1.7 yards when the pass arrived. The Cowboys (303) were in a single-high defense, and Darnold was able to get safety Xavier Woods to bite on a play fake. This is how it works in Gase’s dreams.
“I think it was huge, a big spark,” Anderson said. “Hopefully, it’s a turning point in our season.”