Maybe Sam Darnold is a magic wand.
The Jets got Darnold and their groove back Sunday and notched their first victory of the season, a 24-22 win over the Cowboys … not that it was easy.
The Jets jumped out to an 18-point lead early and then held on for dear life late.
The win snapped a seven-game losing streak dating to last year and got coach Adam Gase his first victory with the Jets. They are now 1-4.
Darnold threw two first-half touchdown passes and the Jets took a 21-3 lead in the second quarter. The Cowboys, who have lost three straight after opening the season with three straight wins, mounted a furious comeback and quarterback Dak Prescott ran for a 4-yard touchdown with 47 seconds remaining to cut the score to 24-22. Dallas then failed to convert the two-point conversion when Prescott’s throw to tight end Jason Witten fell to the turf thanks to a blitzing Jamal Adams up the middle.
The defense starred on the final meaningful play, but Darnold stole the show in the first half.
Darnold threw two touchdown passes, including a 92-yard bomb to Robby Anderson in the opening half. After missing three games while dealing with the effects of mononucleosis, Darnold showed no signs of rust and made the Jets offense look legitimate again.
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said this week Darnold was not a “magic wand,” but he looked like one Sunday. The presence of Darnold elevated everything about the Jets.
Suddenly, Gase looked like a good coach again. The offensive line could function. The receivers could catch. The beer got cheaper at MetLife Stadium. … OK, maybe he didn’t fix everything.
The defense gave Darnold a huge assist, keeping the Cowboys out of the end zone until there was 6:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. Dallas mounted an 11-play, 84-yard drive to make Jets fans sweat. Ezekiel Elliott scored a 5-yard touchdown to cut the Jets’ lead to 21-16.
The Jets answered with a nice drive of their own with Darnold connecting on a 30-yard pass to Jamison Crowder and an 18-yard pass to Anderson to move them into scoring range. The drive stalled and Sam Ficken made a 38-yard field goal to make it 24-16 with 3:23 left in the game.
Dallas mounted its last drive after that and was helped out by pass interference penalties on Darryl Roberts, Blake Cashman and Adams that got Dallas inside the 20. Prescott scored but they could not complete the comeback with the failed two-point conversion.
The Jets defense had played really well against the Cowboys No. 1 ranked offense, but began to buckle in the fourth quarter.
The Jets offense that had looked dominant in the first half sputtered in the second half. Darnold threw an interception to Jourdan Lewis on third-and-5 from the Cowboys’ 11, but the Cowboys ended up missing a field goal.
The Cowboys offense was missing starting tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins and wide receiver Amari Cooper exited in the first quarter with a quad injury. Gregg Williams’ defense was able to pressure Prescott and contain star running back Ezekiel Elliott.
The Jets offense had been nonexistent the previous two games with Luke Falk at quarterback, but Darnold breathed life into the unit. The Jets put together a 14-play, 83-yard drive in the first quarter, finished off by a 2-yard touchdown run from Le’Veon Bell. It was Bell’s second touchdown of the season and first rushing. The score gave the Jets their first lead since the fourth quarter of the Week 1 game against the Bills at 7-0.
Dallas cut the lead to 7-3 on a Brett Maher 50-yard field goal at the start of the second quarter.
The Cowboys were threatening to score again later in the second quarter. They drove to the Jets’ 6-yard line, but then were stopped on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 by a swarming defense. Rookie defensive lineman Quinnen Williams made the stop on fourth down, tackling Prescott on a quarterback keeper.
On the first play after the fourth-down stop, Gase dialed up a deep ball. Darnold found a streaking Anderson at midfield and Anderson was off to the races. He beat cornerback Chidobe Awuzie on the play and then caught it just behind safety Jeff Heath. The 92-yard touchdown gave the Jets a 14-3 lead with 34 seconds left in the half. It also was the second-longest touchdown in Jets history. Only a 96-yard pass from Ken O’Brien to Wesley Walker in 1985 against the Bills was longer.
The Jets were not done, though. They got the ball back with two minutes left in the half and moved down the field quickly, the big play being a 33-yard pass from Darnold to Demaryius Thomas. Darnold connected with tight end Ryan Griffin for a 5-yard touchdown and a 21-3 lead with 27 seconds left in the half.
Maher kicked a 62-yard field goal for Dallas as time expired in the half to cut the Jets’ lead to 21-6.