Sam Darnold took Jets fans' breath away in two ways early in the team's 37-28 loss to the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium on Thursday night.
First, Darnold led the Jets on their first opening-drive touchdown of the season, scoring on a 46-yard scamper on third-and-7. Darnold avoided pressure up the middle from LB Alexander Johnson, who rushed untouched, before he tucked it. Darnold juked S Justin Simmons near the line of scrimmage and ran down Broadway for the score as WRs Jamison Crowder and Chris Hogan helped pave the way.
"I just an saw an opening and took off," Darnold said. "I thought I was going to slide there for a second and obviously didn't. I think the defense also thought I was going to slide, too. It was nice. The receivers did a really good job blocking downfield once I escaped."
Darnold's TD run is the second 40-plus yard run by a Jets QB in franchise history (Al Dorow, 1960). Darnold's 55 yards after first contact, according to ESPN Stats & Info, is the most yards after contact by a QB on a run in more than 10 seasons.
After the Broncos kicked a field goal on their first possession to make it 7-3, Darnold put a scare into Jets fans. He couldn't escape pressure from Johnson this time and hurt his shoulder when he was flung to the turf for a 10-yard sack. He went into the locker room but returned on the offense's next series (replacing backup Joe Flacco) and finished the first half with a 75.9 QB rating. He completed 59.1% of his passes (13 of 22) for 130 yards.
"Fine," Darnold said of his shoulder. "We'll take it day-by-day at this point and see what they say tomorrow."
He added: "I've had something similar, so I wasn't too worried. Once they told me they felt like I could go back out there again, that's when I started to get excited and obviously got back out there."
The offense moved the ball in the second half but settled for three more field goals (32, 54 and 37 yards). CB Pierre Desir, who had 2 INTs, scored the Jets' only TD of the second half on a 35-yard return with 10:56 left in the game and cut the Broncos lead to 27-25. The offense failed on the 2-point conversion, but Brian Poole picked off QB Brett Rypien on the Broncos' next drive to put the offense on Denver's 44-yard line. Jamison Crowder, who finished with 7 receptions for 104 yards, fell half a yard shy of a first down and Ficken gave the Jets a 28-27 lead with 6:28 left.
The Jets took over with 3:08 remaining, but couldn't gain traction and turned the ball over on downs on their own 43 with 2:00 left. Darnold completed 57.5% of his passes (23 of 40) for 230 yards.
"We had a couple opportunities that really we missed," head coach Adam Gase said. "They've been a good red zone team since [Broncos head coach] Vic [Fangio] has gotten there, he's always been a good red zone team. We had like one down on each attempt where we have to make that play because that's how we're going to get in and we didn't make that play."
The Jets had 11 penalties (118 yards) in the game -- eight in the first half -- all of which extended all four Broncos scoring drives.
On the Broncos' opening drive, Bless Austin was flagged for pass interference on third down on a ball intended for rookie WR K.J. Hamler. OLB Tarell Basham was called for roughing the passer on the next play, putting Rypien and the Broncos offense on the Jets' 43-yard line. The Green & White's defense held Denver to a field goal but the Broncos scored a TD their next possession. DL Quinnen Williams was called for roughing the passer, putting the Broncos on the Jets' 48, and Rypien connected with rookie WR Jerry Jeudy on the next play to give the Broncos a 10-7 lead with 13:17 to play in the second quarter.
Williams took down Rypien to stop the Broncos drive after the Jets took the lead in the fourth quarter but was flagged for grabbing the facemask. Rypien hit WR Tim Patrick for a 31-yard pass that put Denver at the New York 22 and K Brandon McManus converted on a 53-yard field goal with 3:08 remaining to give the Broncos the lead again.
The Broncos, however, helped the Jets score, though the Green & White settled for a field goal each time. Leading, 10-7, Denver ILB Joe Jones was flagged for unnecessary roughness on a 46-yard Sam Ficken field-goal attempt that sailed wide left. Darnold and the offense couldn't capitalize and Ficken's 26-yard boot tied the game with 6:24 remaining in the first half. Then on the Jets' first drive of the second half, Darnold threw a deep ball to WR Jeff Smith and CB Michael Ojemudia was flagged for a 38-yard pass interference that put the Jets in the red zone. The offense settled for another field goal, this one from 32 yards out cutting the Broncos lead to 17-16.
"We had multiple chances to get off the field," Gase said. "We hurt ourselves. The penalties were just brutal. We made them punt one time. We couldn't do the right stuff. When we did hit him, we hit him too late and getting personal fouls."
He added: "We hurt ourselves and we need to get this corrected. We need to figure out what guys are going to do the things right, what guys are going to the right things at the right time. This is not the way that we're going to play."
The Jets dealt with rotating personnel at a number of positions, not only at QB. Chuma Edoga, who started at LT for Mekhi Becton, injured his shoulder on the game's fourth play, and was replaced by Becton. Becton, however, only played in two drives before being replaced by Conor McDermott.
"He went as long as he could," Gase said of Becton. "He didn't have the strength he wanted or that he needed."
Elsewhere on offense, WR Lawrence Cager hurt his hamstring in the second quarter and pulled up while running down the sideline. He did not return. ... CB Bless Austin hurt his calf in the second quarter and was replaced by undrafted rookie free agent Lamar Jackson, who was elevated from the practice squad for Thursday's game. DL Steve McLendon sustained a knee injury but returned.