Jets head coach Todd Bowles was the voice of reason when reminding that rookie QB Sam Darnold, despite his and his teammates' rousing opening-night win at Detroit, would go through the bumps and bruises that all rookies suffer.
Some of those bumps and bruises came today in Darnold's and the Jets' home opener against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium. Despite a sunny day, blue sky, and near sellout crowd, the Jets fell behind, 20-0, at halftime and couldn't muster enough in the second half to avert a 20-12 loss to the 'Fins.
Darnold was 25-of-41 for a Jets-rookie-record 334 yards, but he threw two interceptions, one early leading to Miami's first touchdown, then one in the third quarter throwing from the Dolphins 10.
The defense, so larcenous at Detroit, got two fumbles and applied four-sack pressure on Ryan Tannehill. But Tannehill, with Dolphins icon Dan Marino in the house, completed 17 of 23 passes for a modest 168 yards but two TD passes and also rushed for 47 yards on his first five carries. And Matt Haack's punting kept the Jets offense penned up all afternoon.
The team that won this game would be undefeated and have at least a share of first place in the AFC East and sole possession if New England were to lose at Jacksonville in the late afternoon kickoff. The Dolphins are that 2-0 team and the Jets, at 1-1, have another short week, this one very short, to prepare for their Thursday night visit to Cleveland to take on the 0-1-1 Browns.
Here are nine chronological observations on the Jets' home-opening loss:
1. Under Pressure
The defense primed the takeaway pump in Ford Field last week. Today the D got their pass rush going. On the 'Fins' second drive, S Jamal Adams tracked down Tannehill from behind for a strip sack, visitors covering, on first down. Then Henry Anderson came roaring up the middle for a 15-yard sack on third down. They were the first strip sack and first two sacks of the season.
2. Dolphins Strike First
Darnold generated one first down on his first drive at home before a punt, then picked up two more before trying to fit a ball into a tight window for Quincy Enunwa and instead finding Miami S T.J. McDonald, who returned the pick to the Jets 15. Then the Dolphins solved the Jets' red zone defense, which had been impenetrable from the start of the preseason through the opener at Detroit, for Kenyan Drake's 6-yard burst up the middle on third down for a touchdown that gave the 'Fins a 7-0 lead with 1:12 left in the first quarter.
3. Catches and Fumbles
Quincy Enunwa continued to be Darnold's favorite receiver in his first six quarters of play. After 10 targets and seven catches at Detroit, "Q" had seven targets and four catches to keep the chains moving in the first half. But when Darnold went away from Enunwa, he found Robby Anderson but so did LB Kiko Alonso, who forced a fumble right after Anderson's catch with LB Raekwon McMillan recovering at the Jets 49. Two plays later, Tannehill found WR Albert Wilson against Buster Skrine on the cross, Wilson beat Skrine to the edge and took it down the right sideline for the visitors' second TD and their largest first-half lead at MetLife since opening a 20-0 lead in 2012.
4. Close but No Cigar
With only 41 seconds left in the first half, the Jets tried to get back in it. Darnold's first play was his longest completion as a pro, a 44-yard crossing route to Terrelle Pryor to the Miami 31. Then a 17-yarder to rookie TE Chris Herndon got it to the 14 with 16 seconds to play. But Darnold missed a wide-open Enunwa in the right corner of the end zone on the next play and then on the final play of the half, with no timeouts left, Herndon caught a pass over the middle at the 2, fumbled, recovered, but couldn't stretch it over the goal line. The Dolphins left the field punching the air at having dodged that bullet.
5. Fighting Back
The Jets' task was historically long. The largest halftime deficit they ever overcame was 17-0 down to 21-17 victory over the Dolphins in 2001. The largest deficits overcome overall were the famous 23-point hole in the 40-37 OT Monday Night Miracle win in 2000 and the 21-point second-quarter (but not halftime) deficit in the 31-28 win at Denver in 1978. Staring at those odds, Darnold didn't blink at the start of the second half, completing passes of 24 yards to TE Eric Tomlinson, 17 to Enunwa, and the 28-yard TD catch-and-run by Bilal Powell for his longest career TD reception. Jason Myers missed on the extra point so the deficit was closed to 20-6.
6. Take Away, Give Back
The Jets nearly had a golden opportunity to get right back into the game when LB Jordan Jenkins barged in on Tannehill, stripped him of the ball on the backpedal and recovered at the MIA-10. But Darnold gave it right back on the next play when he tried to find Pryor in the end zone but instead found CB Xavien Howard for the touchback.
7. Pinning Them Down
Haack's punting gave the visitors from the south great field position all day. Through their first 10 possessions, the Jets' average drive start was their 23.4-yard line, with drives after Haack punts at the 4, 10, 17, 8 and 7-yard lines. That was five punts, five inside-the-20's. After the last one, midway through the third quarter, Darnold nearly got the offense into plus territory, only to have Herndon drop a big gainer on second down.
Then Haack's sixth punt was not an I-20, but with Charone Peake's illegal block on Andre Roberts' return, the start was still at the Jets 14 trailing 20-9 with 9:01 to play.
8. Rookie 300s
Geno Smith had been the only Jets rookie QB to pass for 300 yards in a game, 331 to be exact against Buffalo in Game 3 of the 2013 season. Darnold broke that with six minutes to go, getting to 334 on 25-of-41 passing en route to Myers' 41-yard FG with 6:01 to play get the Jets to a one-score game, trailing 20-12. If Darnold got the ball back, he would add to that rookie mark, but would it be enough to avert a home-opening defeat?
9. The Endgame
Darnold didn't get it back. The Jets defense needed a third-down stop from their 40 with 3:36 to play to prevent even a field goal by rookie Jason Sanders. But Tannehill completed a 19-yard pass on third-and-19 to ageless RB Frank Gore for a first down at the 26. Then they needed another third-down stop, but Tannehill kept for 8 yards to convert another to the Jets 14 at the two-minute warning. With no Jets timeouts left, that meant victory formation for three kneeldowns to run out the final 2:00 on the day.