EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Sam Darnold's night started so well, his weaving 46-yard touchdown run a New York Jets record for a quarterback.
He even eluded a would-be sack by Alexander Johnson on the play.
Darnold would not avoid Denver's pass rush too often the rest of the way, even leaving the Jets' 37-28 loss for a few plays with what looked like a serious shoulder injury late in the first quarter. He was back midway into the Jets' next drive Thursday night, performing bravely and at times effectively.
But New York's banged-up offensive line couldn't protect the third-year quarterback, who went down six times — including a brutal sack by Johnson that temporarily sidelined him.
“I have had something similar, so I wasn’t too worried once they told me they felt I could go out there again,” Darnold said. “That is where I started to get excited and got back out there.
“We'll take it day by day and see what they say tomorrow.”
Coach Adam Gase already was trying to figure out a plan for the offense with veteran Joe Flacco at quarterback when Darnold left.
“Yeah, the way he got thrown down, I wasn’t sure,” Gase said of the severity of the injury. “I was trying to blueprint out how the rest of the game would go with Joe and make sure to call it right and not put him into too much harm."
His young, struggling quarterback was back on the sideline warming up before entering early in the second quarter.
The Jets (0-4) were done in by 11 penalties for 118 yards, six of them personal fouls — a chronic issue all season — as much as they were by the sacks. Darnold finished 23 for 42 for 230 yards and rushed for 84, leading the team.
He even got New York into the lead at 28-27 before Denver (1-3) got the final 10 points.
That 28-point total was not built on four touchdowns, though. Sam Ficken kicked five field goals, while Pierre Desir had a 35-yard interception return for the only touchdown aside from Darnold's scramble to the end zone. As they have done all season, the Jets flopped in the red zone, going 0 for 3.
“It is unacceptable,” Darnold said, the disgust evident in his voice. “Got to score when you are down there.”
That rarely occurs when the quarterback is being besieged.
“It was just good to get back there and get two of them," said Broncos linebacker Bradley Chubb, who had 2 1/2 sacks. "You see yourself have success and then you see the guys around you have success: Josey (Jewell) with two (sacks), Shelby (Harris) with probably 1½ or something like that. You just see everybody getting back there, it’s just fun and it makes you want to go out there and get more.”
The fact that the Jets finally were competitive didn't mean a whole lot to Darnold, either. They were blown out in Buffalo and Indianapolis and by San Francisco at MetLife Stadium.
This was a winnable game against a previously winless opponent using a third-string quarterback, Brett Rypien. Still, the Jets couldn't get it done.
“We gotta win a game,” Darnold said. “So yeah it is better than getting blown out, but we got to win that game.”
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