ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- For 11 seconds, the New York Jets were as good as anybody in the NFL. Sam Darnold had the ball, and everything went right for a team that has experienced so much wrong this season.
On one magical play, Darnold outran the Buffalo Bills, going this way and that way – a 46.8-yard scramble, according to NFL NextGen Stats. A highlight-film block from tackle Kelvin Beachum got him out of trouble, and wide receiver Robby Anderson -- invisible for stretches of the season -- got open to create a small window in the end zone.
On the run, Darnold fired a 7-yard touchdown pass to Anderson, the signature play in the Jets’ 27-23 win on Sunday at Next Era Field. It was the most yards run by a quarterback on a completion in the last two seasons, but it was so much more than that for the Jets (4-9), who snapped a six-game losing streak.
With one play in the fourth quarter, and a few other gems that followed, the Jets saw into their future. Darnold displayed poise and playmaking ability, giving the forlorn franchise something to feel good about in this dreadful season.
“Great creativity,” coach Todd Bowles said of Darnold’s improvisation.
“He’s clutch,” safety Jamal Adams said. “He came out and did what he did, showing why he was drafted where he was drafted.”
It was the Jets’ first win since Oct. 14, and the first fourth-quarter comeback win of Darnold’s young career. He led two long touchdown drives in the last quarter, rallying the Jets from 20-13 and 23-20 deficits. For a change, they didn’t stink. Afterward, the locker room sounded as if they had won a playoff game.
“I’m happy for the guys,” Bowles said. “They haven’t won in a while. They’ve taken a lot of heat, and well-deservedly so, and they still came out fighting.”
When he's kicking back in the offseason, reflecting on his rookie year, Darnold will look back on Sunday's game as the day he conquered adversity.
There was the rust factor, the result of a four-week layoff. There was the winter weather, easily the coldest game for a guy who's spent most of his life in sunny California. There was an in-game foot injury that knocked him out for a series.
Despite the challenges, Darnold completed 7 of 10 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Elijah McGuire scored the game winner on a fourth-down run from the 1-yard line with 1:17 left in the game, a touchdown set up by Darnold's 39-yard completion to Anderson.
“He dropped a dime,” Anderson said.
The franchise is heading toward a tumultuous offseason, one that likely will cost Bowles his job, but this was one of the few feel-good moments. This was about a young potential franchise player returning from the first injury of his career and showing toughness by returning to the game after a brief trip to the locker room following the Jets' first series.
“It was hurting really bad,” Darnold said.
The team was concerned that Darnold had re-strained his right foot. If that were the case, his season would’ve been over. They also thought it might have been fractured, but an X-ray was negative. So he returned. And dazzled.
“He played tough and gritty,” Bowles said.
Darnold (16-for-24, 170 yards) played an uneven game, throwing an ugly interception in the third quarter, but he perked up in crunch time. Years from now, the game will be remembered for The Scramble. It was a schoolyard play in which he scrambled right … and then left … and then unleashed a laser to Anderson. At one point, he was 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
“He does really good outside the pocket,” wide receiver Quincy Enunwa said. “We have to figure out more ways to get him doing that. When he was coming out in the draft, I think that was one of the things he did best. Now that he’s healthy, we have to make sure he’s attempting that a little bit more.”
It had been a long time since he had delivered a "wow" moment. It didn't change the narrative of the season, which was ruined several weeks ago, but it provided a glimmer of hope.