A little bit of home cooking would have been nice, but Sam Darnold will gladly take a win.
Back-to-back red-eye trips took the Jets' QB close to home on Sunday, an afternoon in Southern California that brought an emphatic end to the Jets winless season in a stunning 23-20 upset win over the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium.
In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, Darnold and his teammates were sequestered for their trip and the idea of a family reunion at a perilous time was out of the question. As painful as that might have been for Darnold & Family, the trip back to New Jersey will be oh so sweet.
"It's huge. It's amazing," Darnold told Fox Sports after the game. "We had back-to-back West Coast trips and weren't able to stay out here because of COVID. We did our jobs. It feels great."
Asked if the victory in Los Angeles had any special significance, Darnold told reporters: "Not really. It's just special to get this win. I can't wait to celebrate a little more with my teammates."
Darnold played a smart and strong game, finishing 22 of 32 for 207 yards and a 99.8 QB rating. He got rid of the ball quickly, was sacked only twice against a fearsome Rams defensive front -- but Darnold's longest completion went for 24 yards. One of the keys: No mistakes. Zero.
"He did a great job, made the right decisions, no panic," Head Coach Adam Gase said. "Sam did a good job throwing some away, he got the ball out of his hands. Sometimes it doesn't look pretty and the yardage might not have been there, but you have to make sure every possession ends with a kick.
"The guys really did a good job of following the game plan. The game had to be played a certain way, getting positive plays on offense, eliminating explosive plays on defense. We had to steal possessions. Today we had 11 guys trusting each other."
Darnold said about the quick throws: "It was huge, it was our game plan coming in. We knew they would try to disrupt us up front and I knew I had to get it [the ball] out. As long as we kept having positive plays, that was our mindset coming in."
While rushed, Darnold had three occasions to send the ball harmlessly over the sideline. He also ran for a couple of first downs.
Perhaps his biggest pass was the most modest, yet most pivotal of the afternoon. Winding down to the two-minute warning, the Jets faced a third-and-six at the Rams' 48, clinging to a precarious 3-point lead. Darnold was rushed, but found Frank Gore over the middle for a 6-yard gain, and a first down that sealed the victory.
It was Gore's only catch of the game -- a game that also included his TD dive on a fourth-and-1 play.
Gore said: "I saw 51 [Rams' LB Troy Reeder] run out of the middle of the field, I knew it was going to be a quick pass. I told Sam to watch me over the middle. He looked and I was open. I wanted to make sure I secured the ball."
"It was a pretty simple design," Darnold said. "There was no one around him and he was waving his arms. I thought to myself, 'All right Frank I see you!' He did a great job when he caught it. He backed his way to getting a first down. He didn't turn his shoulders."
After Gore gave the Jets a first down, and with the Rams out of timeouts, the Jets found themselves in the unfamiliar Victory Formation, running out the clock with three plays.
"It's the greatest feeling in sport, to ice the game," Darnold said. "We know we had it, it's the best. That last drive ... I knew we couldn't give it back to them. To see it come to fruition is the biggest thing for us, it's an amazing feeling."