Although the backdrop of Sunday's practice was a vastly changed landscape at MetLife Stadium, the Jets took a step forward this afternoon. After turning the ball over three times in Wednesday's scrimmage at One Jets Drive, the Jets first-team offense responded with a turnover-free performance as Sam Darnold threw scoring passes to both RB Le'Veon Bell and WR Chris Hogan. The defense also limited the big plays that plagued them in their previous outing as the team competed at its home in front of tens of thousands of empty seats.
"To be honest, it's going to be tough," said veteran DT Steve McLendon of playing in 2020 without fans. "For me, it's going to be very tough. This time now, we just have to embrace it and get ready for it. It is what it is… Regardless if there are fans in the stadium or not (we would love to have them here), but in order to keep everyone safe — it's the best thing to do."
Veteran ILB Avery Williamson said the prospect of playing regular-season games in empty stadiums will make the contests feel similar to scrimmages.
"It was different, but I feel like we had to bring our own energy and go out there and make sure we're on point," Williamson said. "That's all we can do. It's definitely different though."
Darnold, who was intercepted by rookie Ashtyn Davis Wednesday, was in fine form most of the day. Despite being a fraction off on a would-be score to Jamison Crowder, the third-year signal-caller had success hitting Bell out of the backfield on multiple occasions and had a brilliant back-shoulder scoring strike to the veteran back. He ended practice on a high note, extending a play before delivering a rope to Hogan for a TD. His best pass might have been a ridiculously accurate toss to wideout Josh Malone up the sideline following a designed roll.
"He has a plan of what to go to and it's coming out instead of him standing there thinking about what he's going to do," Gase said of Darnold. "It's becoming second nature to him. The end of that last series that we did, the thing that I love is when things go bad — he can make plays. There were a couple times we let a few guys loose, he scrambles outside of the pocket and makes a play and keeps the drive alive."
See the Best Images from Sunday's Practice at MetLife Stadium
Rookie RB La'Mical Perine, who had a 70-plus yard scoring run Wednesday, sustained an ankle injury and will need an MRI. After catching a short pass out of the backfield, Perine was caught from behind by OLB Frankie Luvu and the Florida product had his leg caught up underneath him. The Jets practiced with six healthy bodies at wide receiver (Donte Moncrief has to go through COVID protocols and pass his physical) and Perine now joins Josh Adams (hamstring) on the backfield injury list.
"Right now, we're at six at the wideout spots and hopefully we get some of those guys back this week," Gase said. "At running back, we're thinning out pretty quick. Hopefully we get back Josh sooner than later."
The Jets took the precautionary route with Marcus Maye in teams drills after the veteran safety's calf tightened up. Maye wanted to return to action, but Gase held him out with the regular season now two weeks away.
"I thought today was way better than the last time we had a scrimmage atmosphere," Gase said. "I'm not sure if it's the fact that we were in the stadium with that game feel, but we got a lot of good work today going through TV timeouts and crowd noise, trying to figure out what that might be like. The halftime was good. There were a lot of positive things that came out of today. Obviously, I would've liked to see nobody get hurt, we have quite a few guys injured right now. Hopefully we start to get a lot of these guys back by the bunches and we can finish the week off right."
One player who did a lot right the past week was Braxton Berrios. The team's primary punt returner often has had his number called and made good on his offensive opportunities. Berrios says the entire team is continuing to adjust to a new normal and Sunday's game-like simulations at MetLife Stadium was just another step in the process.
"Like everything this whole year, it's a lot different," Berrios said. "It's weird. Nobody has really played a football game in an empty stadium. The constant crowd noise that you try to replicate or simulate what it would be like, but it's not even close. It's different and it's something we're adjusting to. It'll be a nonfactor come gametime."
Following Sunday's workout, the Jets claimed wideout D.J. Montgomery from the Cleveland Browns. They also announced that former Dolphins RB Kalen Ballage will revert back to Miami after he failed his physical. Players who did not practice Sunday: Josh Adams (hamstring), OLB Tarell Basham (ankle), WR Lawrence Cager (knee), CB Pierre Desir (hamstring), S Matthias Farley (hamstring), OL Conor McDermott (knee), WR Denzel Mims (hamstring), LB Patrick Onwuasor (knee), WR Breshad Perriman (knee), CB Brian Poole (dehydration), WR Vyncint Smith (core) and DL Jabari Zuniga (quad). … Le'Veon Bell made a nice move on LB Avery Williamson to pry himself open in 7-on-7s. … LB Frankie Luvu effectively used a spin move on first-round pick T Mekhi Becton to get pressure on QB Sam Darnold. Luvu later batted down a James Morgan pass intended for RB La'Mical Perine … S Bennet Jackson screamed off the edge to stop Perine for no gain. … QB Mike White hit WR Braxton Berrios in the corner of the end zone for a score with CB Quincy Wilson in coverage. … CB Nate Hairston made a pair of pass defenses and nearly came away with an interception. … Darnold tucked the ball for a keeper on a third down, evading DL Kyle Phillips to get a first down.