When Sam Darnold was a student at San Clemente High School in California, some of his football teammates nicknamed him “Our Lord and Savior” for his exploits on the field.
Jets fans can relate.
On Sunday, Darnold felt like a savior arriving to pull the Jets season out of the trash can, dust it off and get it back on track. The second-year quarterback threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns and led the Jets to their first win — a 24-22 victory over the Cowboys — in his return from mononucleosis.
“I think him coming back gave the team, our offense, more life,” said wide receiver Robby Anderson, who caught a 92-yard touchdown pass from Darnold. “That’s our starting quarterback. He brings a lot of upside. He has a lot in store.”
The Jets hope Anderson is right and this is only the beginning of a big season for Darnold. That season was delayed by the mono, which caused him to miss three games. In his first game back, he had about as much rust as a car just driven off the lot.
He made terrific throws all day long and showed the instincts that make him special.
Jets coach Adam Gase was asked what impressed him the most about Darnold’s performance.
“All the throws that he made that were not necessarily the rhythm-type throws,” Gase said. “He had to move in the pocket, slide, off balance, the accuracy he threw with. I was very impressed by that. I guess we see it a lot in practice. For him to get into a game and for how calm he was is impressive.”
Darnold looked terrific from the start. His first pass was a 17-yard strike to Demaryius Thomas. On the Jets’ second drive of the game, he threw a 24-yard touch pass to Jamison Crowder down the sideline to convert a third-and-4. It was a throw that few humans can make and reminded you of what the Jets were missing over the past three weeks.
The 92-yard touchdown pass to Anderson was placed perfectly and he showed his ability to keep a play alive with just a small movement on a third-quarter pass to Crowder that gained 25 yards.
Gase called him an “eraser” last week, as in he can erase other people’s mistakes. That showed on Sunday as everything from the play-calling to the route running to the pass blocking suddenly looked better.
“He buys you that extra second you need sometimes, especially on the third-and-6-to-9 area,” Gase said. “He either slides in the pocket or scrambles outside the pocket. He does things like that to really help a receiver, tight end, running back, helping the linemen to where it’s so subtle it’s hard to kind of see with the naked eye, but when you go back and watch it, you’re like, ‘Wow, that was really a good play by him to help extend that play.’ ”
Darnold grew up playing football on Lasuens (Lost Winds) Beach near his home in San Clemente. Running in the sand has made him able to throw without having his feet perfect. He never looks off-balance on a throw. He feels the rush and shows rare instincts for a quarterback. All of that was on display Sunday.
“It’s definitely something that’s ingrained in me for sure. I think that’s a good way of saying it,” Darnold said. “Just the way the offense was flowing, I felt really good about it. Even in practice the whole week and the week before I felt we had a really good flow and it showed out there [Sunday] night.”
For all the good feelings around Darnold and the Jets after their first win, the 22-year-old cautioned there is a lot more work to be done.
“I think for us we just have to continue to work on the details,” Darnold said. “Obviously, we got the win, which was awesome. Our defense played great. We played good at times, but there are a lot of things we can clean up. I think we left a lot of points on the field. “
The Savior has spoken.