By Anahi Soto
East Rutherford, N.J.–The crowd went wild as the cannons blasted off. The static in the air felt charged and Jets fans anxiously awaited the start of the game. An ocean of green swayed throughout MetLife Stadium, home to the New York Jets, as the visiting Atlanta Falcons kicked off to the home team. Any other year, a preseason NFL game in August wouldn’t generate much excitement. But this year was different. Friday, Jets rookie quarterback and potential franchise savior Sam Darnold made his first professional appearance.
The Jets were leading 10-0 in the second quarter when the 21-year-old Californian, wearing no. 14, jogged off the sidelines and into the huddle for the first time. The hometown crowd, which had lost steam since the start of the game, suddenly sprang to life. Darnold’s first drive was a disappointment. Despite two completed passes and a five-yard scramble, Darnold failed to advance out of Jets territory and the Jets punted the ball back to Atlanta.
His second drive was more successful. Starting at his own 36-yard line, the rookie marched the offense down the field, generating a first down-and-goal with 52 seconds left in the half.
Darnold took the snap and surveyed the field, drifting to his right to escape pressure. As he burst from the pocket toward the sideline, he spotted new Jet acquisition Charles Johnson, and fired on the run. Johnson caught the pass near the sideline, and two-stepped into the dark green turf for the touchdown. The Darnold era was off to a promising start.
The Jets had been eyeing the 6’3” quarterback since he was a freshman at USC in 2015. In April, the team leapt at the opportunity to trade up in the draft—from the sixth to the third position—to land their man. Over last decade, the Jets have bounced from one mediocre quarterback to the next, including infamous busts like Geno Smith, Bryce Petty, and Christian Hackenberg. Darnold, the highest-ever drafted Jets QB since franchise great Joe Namath in 1965, has given fans new hope.
Darnold finished the game 13 of 18 for 96 yards and one touchdown with no turnovers. Neither team scored after halftime, as Atlanta kicker David Marvin shanked a 42-yard field goal wide as time expired. The Falcons, who led the NFL in points two years ago, had been shut out.