Robby, say hello to Sam.
It took longer than expected, but the young quarterback and the young wide receiver finally got acquainted, displaying their immense potential as a tandem with two long touchdown hookups Sunday -- for 76 and 35 yards. Not only did the New York Jets snap a three-game losing streak with their 34-16 victory over the Denver Broncos, but they solved one of the biggest mysteries of the young season:
What's wrong with the Darnold-Anderson chemistry?
Anderson, who had only eight catches and one touchdown in the first four games, was so concerned about his slow start that he approached Darnold last week with the hope of unlocking his big-play ability. Anderson is soft-spoken by nature, but he felt compelled to bring it up. Instead of pulling an Odell Beckham Jr., throwing people under the bus in a TV interview, he handled his business discreetly, behind the scenes.
"I'm starting to open up the communication a little more, about things I'm seeing and letting him know situations where I'm confident," Anderson said in a quiet moment. "I can win with him. It's just growth."
The long-awaited explosion happened in the second quarter, giving the Jets a 21-10 lead in a game they absolutely had to win. A four-game losing streak would've been devastating for the team and coach Todd Bowles, but their playmakers emerged in a big way. After Isaiah Crowell scored on a 77-yard run, the highlight play in his 219-yard day (a Jets record), the Darnold-Anderson combo struck twice in a span of 9 minutes, 33 seconds.
Anderson ran a stutter-step go route on cornerback Bradley Roby, torching him with no safety help over the top -- a 76-yard pitch and catch. After a punt, Darnold threw his best pass as a pro, a 35-yard dime in the end zone to the ultra-fast Anderson, who beat Roby again. The Jets took control and, for a change, closed the deal. Anderson finished with three catches for 123 yards.
"It was an awesome feeling," said Darnold, who passed for 198 on only 10 completions. "I'm starting to feel the rhythm of Robby's timing and how fast he gets downfield."
The Jets (2-3) are a lot better when Anderson is a big part of the offense. For a variety of reasons, they haven't had much of a vertical passing offense -- protection issues, rookie quarterback, et al. They missed a great shot last week in Jacksonville, where Darnold overthrew Anderson on what would've been an 86-yard touchdown. To his credit, offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates approached the Denver game with an aggressive mindset.
This time, Darnold was money, proving that, yes, he's capable of hitting the home run.
"It's going to be fun to watch us here in the next couple of weeks," he said after a 512-yard day in total offense -- the biggest of the Bowles era.
This was a big step for Darnold, who rebounded from his first three-game losing streak at any level as a starting quarterback. He was far from flawless (four passes were tipped at the line, one resulting in an interception), but he demonstrated aggressiveness, pushing the ball downfield. When a team overplays the run with an eight-man front, as the Broncos did, the Jets should be able to strike downfield.
There's where Anderson comes in.
From the start of training camp, Anderson and Darnold were like strangers on the field, showing no rapport. In camp, Anderson sometimes went days without a big play in practice. It was weird. It wasn't intentional. Darnold developed an affinity for Quincy Enunwa, unwittingly making Anderson an afterthought.
So they talked. They practiced on the side. They worked at it, trying to click. The other day, Anderson vowed to a reporter, "It's going to happen, I can feel it. I'm confident." With the season on the verge of slipping away, they finally turned into BFFs.
"Robby is a great deep-ball guy, and Sam is developing a lot of trust in him that way," Bowles said. "It's good to see it happen."