It often wasn't pretty, it was mostly gritty. But early on in the Thursday night game at Baltimore, Sam Darnold and the Jets actually gave the impression that they were going to hang around with the Ravens.
"Especially in the first half, we had a chance," QB Sam Darnold said following the Jets' 42-21 loss to the Ravens. "It just got away from us. If we executed better ... so many ifs ... if we just played better, if I had back some throws that I missed, it could've been a whole different game."
One could say those feelings were a false positive, since the Jets fell behind, 35-7, before adding two touchdowns in the first half of the fourth quarter. But the reality was that after a difficult opening in which the defense yielded three 60-yards-plus touchdown drives to the brawny home side, Darnold and the offense rallied for a 63-yard TD drive of their own.
And then came the final two minutes of the first half.
"I mean, whenever we get in the red zone and we don't come away with points, especially if I turn the ball over, it's never good." Darnold said. "Especially against a team like that."
Darnold had two giveaways in this one, but just one came in those final two minutes. First, after a 67-yard drive put the ball at the Ravens' 7 at the two-minute warning, coach Adam Gase decided to go for it on fourth-and-1. Darnold rolled out, was chased by Baltimore's relentless rush, couldn't deliver a money ball to Robby Anderson in the end zone and the pass was broken up.
Then the Jets defense finally pitched a three-and-out and the offense moved back to the Ravens 25 with 29 seconds left. That's when Darnold threw his pick.
"We knew coming into this game how we had to play," Gase said. "We knew we had to be great in time of possession, great ball security, and when we got the ball in the red zone, we had to score touchdowns. We just didn't do it. We didn't finish that one drive and then threw the interception at the end of the half."
Still, the window appeared to be tantalizingly open as the 21-7 deficit held through much of the third quarter. Then Darnold was strip-sacked by LB Tyus Bowser, with DE Jihad Ward recovering at the Jets 24 with 5:20 left in the quarter. Two plays and 11 seconds later, QB Lamar Jackson threw his third of five touchdown passes and the semblance of a game within reach dissolved.
"Yeah, whenever you lose a game, especially in the fashion we did," Darnold said, "every man in here should by sad, frustrated, unhappy, all those words."
See Best Images from the Matchup Against the Ravens
But as RB/KR Ty Montgomery suggested, while the game wound up being frustrating, "this isn't a loss that should kill us or divide us in any way. We lost to a very good team and we showed some things we can build on."
Gase had the same upbeat approach, not just for the fight in his team but for the progress of his quarterback despite the two turnovers and 18-of-32 passing for 218 yards.
"It's coming. He's improving every week," Gase said. "Every week he gets better and better. There's going to be a point where he's a really good player."
For now, Darnold turned his gaze away from the 12-2 Ravens and toward their AFC North brethren, the 8-5 Steelers, who will visit the Green & White for their final home game of the season at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 22.
"We'll continue to just prepare, go back to work, keep doing what we've been doing," Darnold said with a glance around the Jets' M&T Bank Stadium locker room. "We fought to the end. Obviously it wasn't the result we wanted. But we have a lot of resilient guys in here."