EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Two hours before kickoff, Joe Namath talked about then and now. Surrounded by more than two dozen former teammates at the 50th reunion of the New York Jets' 1968 Super Bowl championship team, Broadway Joe was both wistful and hopeful about the franchise's half-century Super Bowl drought.
"You know, 50 years is enough time -- 51, 52, they should be getting it done in the next few years," Namath said.
Days like Sunday make it seem possible. When Sam Darnold plays like he did in the Jets' 42-34 victory over the Indianapolis Colts at MetLife Stadium, it fuels hope that this quarterback-cursed franchise finally has the right guy.
In an entertaining shootout with Andrew Luck, the Jets' rookie played his most efficient game as a pro, completing 24-of-30 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns. Darnold has made significant strides over the past two games and, not surprisingly, the Jets (3-3) won both times, their first winning streak since Weeks 3-4-5 last season. They host the Minnesota Vikings next Sunday with a chance to go over .500 for the first time in a calendar year.
"He played a heckuva game for the most part," coach Todd Bowles said of his 21-year-old quarterback.
Darnold is growing up before our eyes. Facing the Colts' Cover-2 scheme, he showed patience and smarts, taking the underneath throws instead of forcing the ball downfield. Last week it was all about the home-run plays against the Denver Broncos' man-to-man coverage; this time, it was dink, dunk and clutch throws on third down. He played this game with his mind as much as his right arm. At one point, the Jets scored on eight consecutive possessions, including six field goals by Jason Myers, who finished with seven -- a franchise record and one shy of the NFL record.
Afterward, Darnold was totally chill, to use one of his expressions. He has mastered the poker face, looking the same after a win as he does after a loss. It's a rare and admirable trait for an NFL neophyte.
"He's getting more and more comfortable, and it's showing," wide receiver Jermaine Kearse said.
The Jets' first-round pick began the day in an accuracy slump -- three straight games with under a 50-percent completion rate. The last Jets quarterback to go four in a row was Geno Smith in 2013, and Darnold certainly didn't want that dubious comparison. To his credit, he managed the game well, making only one mistake -- a first-quarter interception.
By the end of the day, Darnold was the first Jets quarterback since Chad Pennington (2007) to finish with an 80-percent completion rate on at least 30 attempts.
The coaching staff showed its faith in Darnold at the end of the first half, when it gave him the green light for a hurry-up drive. Ahead by seven points, with 45 seconds and two timeouts left, it would've been safer to milk the clock and not get greedy. But, no. Darnold completed four passes for 58 yards and spiked the ball with three seconds left, all his timeouts gone.
The crowd actually applauded the clock play, realizing the young quarterback had just executed a flawless drive to set up a field goal.
"One of the best-executed two-minute drills I've ever been a part of in a while," tackle Kelvin Beachum said.
Darnold received a lot of help, especially from receivers Kearse (nine catches for 94 yards) and Terrelle Pryor (7-yard touchdown catch), who replaced the injured Quincy Enunwa. Rookie tight end Chris Herndon contributed with a 32-yard touchdown, his first NFL score. The defense got shredded by Luck, but managed four takeaways, including a pick-6 by cornerback Morris Claiborne to start the game. The Jets converted the takeaways into 20 points.
It was a team effort, exactly what Namath talked about before the game. Asked about Darnold, the Hall of Famer said, "Yeah, I like him, but it takes up front, outside, two sides of the ball. It's a team game. Sam will be good. You just need all the pieces to fit, though. You've got to have a complete team."
They're not there yet, but the Jets could be that team in the future, as long as Darnold continues to be Broadway Sam.