The game against the Giants wasn't a fluke. Sam Darnold really is back on track.
The Jets' franchise quarterback had one of his finest games of the season on Sunday, shredding the awful Washington Redskins in a 34-17 win. He completed 19-of-30 passes for 293 yards with four touchdowns and an interception.
Granted, it was against the Redskins and they are a truly bad team. But the 22-year-old Darnold showed a lot of the things that made people think he was destined for greatness before he began to regress earlier this season. He made a lot of throws outside the pocket, which has always been his specialty. He showed patience and leadership in the pocket, and some fantastic throws.
His two best plays were touchdowns. His first touchdown came when he escaped the pocket, rolled to the left, and directed backup tight end Daniel Brown to take off down the sidelines. The result was a 20-yard touchdown. And later he threw an absolute dart in the fourth quarter to Jamison Crowder streaking down the sidelines, right into his hand for a 29-yard score.
There were certainly some bad moments, like his back-foot, thrown-into-traffic interception. But he's making fewer of those bad throws and more of the good ones lately, which is the way it's supposed to be.
Meanwhile, here are some other takeaways from the Jets' second straight victory …
- Darnold believes the Jets (3-7) are still in the playoff hunt, let's humor him for a moment. They are currently three games back in the race for the second AFC wild-card spot with six games to go. Not ideal. But their schedule sets up nicely the next three weeks, especially if they can beat the Raiders (5-4) next Sunday at home. After that, they're at Cincinnati (0-9) and home to face the Dolphins (2-8). If they can somehow turn this two-game winning streak into a five-game one … well, they'll still need a miracle, but at least then the conversation would be more interesting.
- Jamal Adams had his second straight strong game and is making a compelling case for why the Jets should keep him -- or why someone else might want to overpay to get him in a trade. He is everywhere on the field, and has suddenly become a very effective edge rusher. He added three more sacks giving him six on the season -- all in the last three weeks. He led a Jets pass rush that dominated the Redskins' offensive line and finished with six sacks overall.
- Smart move by the coaches recognizing how awful the Redskins are at covering tight ends and making sure to feature Ryan Griffin, who finished with five catches for 109 yards and a touchdown. The Jets also got a 20-yard touchdown from backup tight end Brown. They were wide open on many of those catches, but it was good to see Gase and Darnold realizing that and making it part of their attack.
- Rookie CB Blessuan Austin made his first NFL start and was terrific. He was good in coverage and quick when he was asked to blitz. Granted, Jets corners have set the bar low this season and the Redskins are an awful offensive team with not a lot of weapons in the passing game. But the Rutgers product is such a great story. The Jets took him in the sixth round in April even though he was coming off two torn ACLs in college. If he can stay healthy, the Jets think they might have gotten a steal.
- DT Nate Shepherd now has two strong games in a row too, since returning from his suspension. A complete non-factor as a 25-year-old rookie last year, the Fort Hays State product is starting to show some of the flashes of why former Jets GM Mike Maccagnan took the leap to draft him in the third round. He is getting a real good push at the pocket fairly consistently. He was often blocked off the line quickly a year ago. That isn't happening anymore.
- The Jets remarkably still can't get Le'Veon Bell going. He had only 59 yards on 18 carries. And while a lot of the blame for that can be put on the offensive line, that argument is hard to make considering what Bilal Powell did in his little bit of action on Sunday. Powell picked up 42 yards on just 7 carries. That's 6.0 yards per carry compared to Bell's 3.3.
There is a difference in styles there, though. Powell is a powerful, straight-ahead runner who attacks the holes even when they haven't developed yet. Bell is more patient, waiting to see how those holes break before he makes his move. That hasn't worked well with a line that has far too many break downs.
- Think about how bad New York football has been this season, and now consider this: The Giants and Jets have combined to beat the Redskins 58-20 this year. And the Giants still play them one more time.