The New York Jets hoped to see two things from rookie quarterback Sam Donald in his return from missing three games with a right foot injury: health and progress.
Mission accomplished, with a victory thrown in.
Darnold, the third overall selection in this year’s draft, showed poise, creativity and, yes, some guts after getting dinged early in the 27-23 win at Buffalo on Sunday. He left for a short period in the first half, then returned to show the Jets (4-9) some of what they believe he will bring to a team seeking a franchise quarterback for decades.
Running back Elijah McGuire scored on a fourth-and-goal run from the 1 with 1:17 remaining to cap a drive during which Darnold completed three of five passes for 52 yards. He showed his deft touch on a 37-yard pass to Robby Anderson, who made an over-the-shoulder catch up the right sideline.
“It was a good play (to Anderson),” coach Todd Bowles said Monday, when the players were off after snapping a five-game slide. “He had his eyes downfield the whole time. You won’t make a living doing that, but you got to be a football player at times, too. The play broke down and he was good at making the play when it broke down.”
That wasn’t the only time Darnold showed some good stuff, as well as a little rust from the layoff.
“I saw progress before he got hurt, but obviously with a win that helps everything,” Bowles said. “There’s still some things he’s got to work on. Also, we can’t have turnovers down there at the end of the field and give up points. But he came back and made some plays that didn’t faze him and that was good to see from a poise standpoint.”
Darnold finished 16 of 24 for 170 yards with a 7-yard touchdown to Anderson and an interception. He entered the game with 14 picks, and chilly, often windy Orchard Park, New York, is not a fun place to play in December, particularly for a California guy.
No matter. Darnold did just about everything the Jets could have sought down the stretch Sunday.
“It’s great for his first game back,” Bowles said. “Obviously he was confident before the fourth quarter comeback. But it just helps him, it just helps him be himself a little more, which he’s comfortable with being anyway. But that’s really all it does for him.”
Bowles might not be around for Darnold’s future development; few if any current NFL coaches are on a hotter seat. New York has had plenty of QBs who were supposed to be a building block, going back to 2000 and Chad Pennington, then Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith.
Judging Darnold’s success will come in upcoming years, of course. For now, the Jets will settle for moving forward a bit.
“We don’t think it was that difficult,” Bowles said of Darnold stepping back in. “He had two full weeks of practice. He looked good in practice and felt good. Once you start playing, you just go with the flow of the game and the game felt good to him, it seemed. He just played football.”
NOTES: Bowles had no update on running back Isaiah Crowell, who left the Buffalo game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury. … The coach had high praise for his special teams units, particularly kick returner Andre Roberts. He had 86- and 51-yard returns. “You can’t say enough about the guy. He’s ready all the time, he’s durable, he’s tough and he gets nicked up and he keeps going. You just don’t notice him until he makes a play, but he does that every single day.”
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