A cheer went up inside MetLife Stadium when their Namath, their Savior, their Patriots slayer, their Eli Manning, their Prince of New York, their Franchise, their Samchise, trotted from the sideline to the huddle for his preseason debut with 8:41 left in the second quarter.
And then Sam Darnold made his move.
It is only preseason and all that, but Darnold looks like the real deal, looks like he belongs, looks like no game will be too big for him.
And near the end of Jets 17, Falcons 0, on the sideline he listened to how New York will embrace a star quarterback they live and lust to call their own.
“I had fans yelling later in the fourth quarter, ‘Great game, Sam, you played great,’ ” Darnold said with a smile. “It’s cool to be able to get that response from all the fans. It’s amazing to be able to play in front of them.
“Jet fans are one of a kind. They’re awesome.”
Just don’t throw an interception, kid.
It is premature for Todd Bowles to determine that the Monday night regular-season opener in Detroit won’t be too big for Darnold, but the kid continues to make a convincing case for himself.
Bowles reiterated he is likely to hold off on a verdict until after the fourth preseason game.
“I’m not gonna jump to any conclusions after one game,” Bowles said.
Jets fans exited as euphoric about Darnold (13-18, 96 yards, one TD) and the Giants passing on him as Giants fans were euphoric about Saquon Barkley on Thursday night.
Our football Boys of Summer.
“[Darnold] had a smile on his face the whole time,” Bowles said.
Darnold’s arm talent is as obvious as Barkley’s leg talent. He seemed able to process what he needed to process and carried his classroom lessons onto the field. He was poised.
“It just kind of goes to how much I’ve grown as a quarterback just in terms of my patience in the pocket and being able to find guys and just feel,” Darnold said. “Have some awareness in terms of when the pocket’s closing, and when I need to run and when I have time to get rid of it.”
He missed Trent Cannon on a second-half bomb, but who expected Namath-to-Don Maynard anyway?
“I feel I played pretty good,” Darnold said. “I think I put the ball where it needed to be, tried to get it in the hands of our playmakers.”
Bowles giving Darnold most of the playing time Friday is telling.
He’ll start whichever quarterback he thinks gives him the best chance to win, and he is giving his prized rookie the best chance to win the starting job.
At the very least, he will want him to play as early as possible.
Darnold’s first TD pass was your classic example of if at first you don’t succeed, and if at second you don’t succeed, try, try again to Charles Johnson.
With Josh McCown counseling him and cheering him on, Darnold began his second possession by finding completions to Tre McBride and Clive Walford before the two-minute warning.
Then came the magic.
Darnold, stepping up in the pocket with a defender leaping in his face, found Walford across the field by the left sideline, a big-time throw for 18 yards.
“Just kind of floated it over the flat-zone defender,” Darnold said.
Now he was in the red zone and it was time to get his team in the end zone.
And Johnson, the veteran former Vikings receiver who is as thrilled with Teddy Bridgewater’s inspiring comeback from nearly losing his leg and his career, dropped a 3-yard TD in the right flat.
Now it was third-and-goal at the 4 and Darnold would have had himself a 4-yard TD if only Johnson hadn’t been flagged for pass interference against Justin Bethel.
The third time was the charm, Darnold rolling right and firing a 14-yard TD to Johnson that gave the Jets a 17-0 lead.
“It was awesome … my first, I guess, scoring drive of my whole career was a two-minute drive going down the field,” Darnold said.
Darnold’s first NFL pass was to Cannon in the left flat for no gain. Darnold scrambled up the middle and slid nicely for 5 yards, shrugged off a cleat to his left hand.
“The hashes are so much closer than college, so I feel like I can see the field a little bit clearer, in a weird way,” Darnold said.
A Samshise quarterback is in the making.
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