It didn’t take long for Sam Darnold to win New York Jets fans over.
In his NFL debut, the former USC Trojan looked every bit like his college self playing against the Atlanta Falcons on Friday night at Metlife Stadium.
Although Darnold was going up against the Falcons’ second-team defensive unit, he showed why New York invested its No. 1 draft pick in him.
Darnold entered as the team’s third-string quarterback. However, he wasted no time picking apart Atlanta’s defense. He hit a receiver on third and seven in his opening drive from New York’s 22-yard line for a first down. He then showed off his legs on the ensuing play. Darnold also made it clear to his coaches that he knows how to protect himself when in the open field, making a clean slide on that first-down run, avoiding a big hit from any Falcons defender.
Despite the solid start to his first NFL series, Darnold & Co. were headed to the sidelines three plays later. Darnold tried to hit veteran journeyman Charles Johnson on a back-shoulder throw but the window was too small for the former Trojan to fit it in bounds.
Nevertheless, Darnold quickly bounced back and did so in a big way.
The San Clemente product seized the opportunity to lead an NFL offense in a two-minute drill, leading the Jets on a 10 play, 64-yard drive down the field in 1:45. He completed 7 of his 8 attempts for 55 yards, capping it off with a 14-yard dart to Johnson.
Sam Darnold rolls to his right and fires his first Jets TD pass. pic.twitter.com/ll8pcsRprF— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) August 11, 2018
The score cemented a strong offensive first-half for New York, and for Darnold, it got his case for the starting quarterback job off to a momentous start.
There was no shortage of time on the field for Darnold from there on, as he played behind center the rest of the way.
While his production in the second half was not the same as the first half, it was not entirely Darnold’s fault. The Jets opted to run a conservative, run-heavy attack in the second half and considering that it’s the first preseason game for them and they already led by 17 points, it was evident that Darnold would get less opportunities to show off his skills.
Overall, Darnold did all of the things coaches want to see in a young quarterback. He read what the defense was giving him and went with it. He stood poised and used his feet when the pocket collapsed. He didn’t try to fit a pass into tight windows that often and didn’t put himself in harms way.
One of my favorites of the night from Darnold - knew pressure was coming (nice job by Swanson too), used eyes towards underneath target then found the deeper shot for a conversion on 1st and 15 pic.twitter.com/CZsSqsoTNE— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) August 11, 2018
Darnold finished the day completing 13 out of 18 pass attempts for 96 yards and a quarterback rating of 103.0.
While veteran gun slinger Josh McCown appears to be the favorite to be the Jets’ starter once Week 1 rolls around given that he was the starter last season, there’s no question that with Darnold around there’s an open competition for the starting job. ESPN’s Rich Simini says that Darnold has a “legitamate” shot of being behind center for the Jets on opening day, per ESPN.
Although he’ll have to surpass both McCown and former Vikings gun slinger Teddy Bridgewater, Darnold displayed the poised and confident swagger that won Trojans fans over when he became USC’s gunslinger in 2016.