As he began his second semester in the NFL, Jets rookie QB Sam Darnold endured his toughest class yet. Darnold was intercepted four times including a backbreaking pick-six from Dolphins LB Jerome Baker in the fourth quarter that changed the entire complexion of a low-scoring contest. The USC product led an attack that totaled a season low in points in Miami as the Jets fell to 3-6 with a 13-6 loss to the 'Fins.
"I think I've just got to be sharper," Darnold said. "I think personally I have to have a better plan. Once I get to the line of scrimmage, I've just got to know exactly where to go with the ball and if one or two is not there, go to three. I've just got to have a better plan."
In a game where both defenses dominated, the Jets couldn't sustain drives and finished just 2-of-13 on third down. The run game was inconsistent and center Spencer Long, playing with a finger injury, often had Darnold out of position in the shotgun reaching for the ball. Miami sacked Darnold four times and the ageless Cameron Wake, who registered two sacks and four quarterback hits, had the athletic passer consistently under duress.
Darnold got off to a slow start. After two three-and-outs in the first quarter, the 21-year-old made a rookie mistake. With the visitors in plus-territory, Darnold locked in on wide receiver Deontay Burnett following a play action design. Veteran linebacker Kiko Alonso read Darnold's eyes, dropping into coverage and coming up with an easy theft. Alonso's interception would lead to the game's first points on a Jason Sanders field goal.
But Darnold, who completed 9-of-13 in the opening half for 89 yards, got into a rhythm in the two-minute drive before intermission. Operating a hurry-up attack, Darnold was comfortable in the shotgun and delivered the ball decisively as the Jets moved down the field. He completed passes to four different targets while moving the offense 45 yards to set up Jason Myers' 48-yard field goal. The deficit at halftime was only 6-3.
Back in Week 2 against the Dolphins, Darnold became the youngest QB in NFL history to throw for 300 yards in a game. But his 334-yard effort went for naught because the Green & White couldn't climb out of a 20-0 hole. He had two picks that afternoon and had even more of a frustrating time down in South Florida Sunday.
'I'm going to continue to learn, continue to learn," Darnold said. "There's always lessons to be learned. I'm going to watch the film, probably on the flight back, and we'll move on from there."
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Despite the returns of wide receivers Robby Anderson and Quincy Enuwna, who both had been out of the lineup with ankle sprains, and the activation of running back Eli McGuire from injured reserve, the Jets needed the Dolphins to give them a boost in the third. Two facemask penalties gave the Green & White a scoring opportunity as they were set up with first-and-10 from the Miami 23. But Wake got by right tackle Brandon Shell and sacked Darnold for a seven-yard loss. On the ensuing play, the Jets were flagged for a delay-of-game penalty. Following a Jermaine Kearse drop, kicker Jason Myers' potentially game-tying 50-yard field goal was pushed to the right.
"We have to execute better," head coach Todd Bowles said. "We have to execute better in a lot of situations. And we turned the ball over and lose the turnover battle 4-0, that's tough to do. We get some yards and then we shoot ourselves in the foot, whether it's penalty-wise or it's just execution-wise and we got to do a better job of that."
Three of Darnold's four interceptions came in the final stanza and the Baker pick-six was a crusher. He made a poor read up the sideline and threw for TE Eric Tomlinson and Baker took it the other way for 26 yards. His final snap was a desperation heave that cornerback Walt Aikens intercepted.