Sam Darnold comes back down to earth in first start as a Jet

LANDOVER, Md. — Let’s not anoint Sam Darnold just yet.

The Jets rookie quarterback came back to Earth on Thursday night in a 15-13 loss to the Redskins. Darnold was hindered by a leaky offensive line and restrictive play-calling, but he was not overly impressive in his first start of the preseason.

Darnold played the entire first half, a total of three series. He led the Jets on a field-goal drive but did not reach the end zone. He completed 8-of-11 passing for 62 yards and threw his first interception of the preseason. He was sacked twice and finished with a rating of 48.3. His longest pass was 13 yards.

The 21-year-old did some good things. He was accurate and threw the ball away to avoid a rushing Ryan Kerrigan on one play. But it did not have the feel of his first appearance last week against the Falcons when he wowed in his debut and led the Jets on a two-minute-drill touchdown drive.

Jets coach Todd Bowles started Darnold to allow him to face a starting defense after facing backups in the Falcons game. Washington’s defense was in his face often and early in this game. If the Jets do decide to go with Darnold to start the season, the offensive line is going to be a concern, especially if their starters are out. On Thursday night, the Jets had a backup at left tackle and right guard and both gave up sacks.

Josh McCown did not play in the game. Teddy Bridgewater played the second half, throwing a touchdown pass.

The Jets spent the week practicing with the Redskins in Richmond, Va., so there was plenty of familiarity between the teams. The Redskins opened up with the ball and the Jets’ starting defense did not play well. Quarterback Alex Smith found completions on crossing patterns underneath the Jets defense and marched Washington down the field. Jets cornerback Buster Skrine had a nice pass breakup on third down to prevent a touchdown and force the Redskins to kick a field goal.

Darnold then entered the game, making his first start as a Jet, even if it is just the preseason. The feeling around the Jets has increasingly become Darnold will be the starting quarterback when they open the season against the Lions on Sept. 10 unless he really stumbles in the final week of training camp and these preseason games.

Thursday’s performance probably did nothing to change the Jets’ opinion on Darnold. He was under fire from the moment he entered the game. On the first drive, Kerrigan was in his face and Darnold managed to slip past him and then throw the ball out of bounds. On the next play, Washington rookie Daron Payne beat Jets backup guard Jonotthan Harrison, who started in place of an injured Brian Winters, for a sack.

On his next drive, Darnold connected with wide receiver Tre McBride on two third-down conversions and pushed the ball into the red zone where the drive stalled. On third-and-10 from the 13, Darnold was sacked again. It appeared that he had no open receivers and held onto the ball instead of throwing it away. Preston Smith got past backup left tackle Brent Qvale, who started in place of the injured Kelvin Beachum, for the sack.

On Darnold’s final drive of the night he was intercepted on fourth-and-1. Darnold tried to throw a short pass to Jermaine Kearse, but the ball was tipped by Deshazor Everett and picked off by Troy Apke.

Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates did not really open up the playbook for Darnold, who threw mostly short passes.

Bridgewater took over at quarterback at the start of the second half. Bridgewater’s first three drives did not go anywhere, but he led the Jets to the end zone in the fourth quarter, throwing a nice 17-yard pass to Charone Peake for the score. He later threw an interception to Prince Charles Iworah.

The Jets starting defense gave up two field-goal drives, one to the Redskins’ second-teamers. They nearly allowed another score, but a pass from Colt McCoy went off the hands of Cam Sims and Jets backup safety Doug Middleton intercepted the ball.

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