It may seem like the Jets came out strong winners in this battle of the two teams with flighty names. Gang Green defeated the Falcons 17-0, albeit with the Falcons’ star players either throwing one pass (Matt Ryan) or not taking to the field (Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman) at all. Winning in the preseason isn't essential. In fact, until the third preseason game - the one that really matters because it is considered the dress rehearsal for the regular season - just getting a feel for the backups is all that matters. Unless, of course, you are the New York Jets and have not one but two quarterbacks making a debut.
The man under center to start the game for the Jets was now old hat Josh McCown. The forgotten man in the Jets quarterback battle completed 1/1 passes for 4 yards and went three-and-out. His role on Friday night was to watch the new guys go at it. Newly acquired free agent Teddy Bridgewater, wearing the emerald green number 5 jersey, completed 7/8 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown as he came off the bench to replace McCown. He looked good, composed and completed a nice touchdown pass to Isaiah Crowell, who lined up in the slot and took the rock to the house after evading two tackles and steam rollering a third guy diving into the end zone. Bridgewater eventually took a hit and said after the game "I felt great. It was an awesome feeling. I was at peace out there."
With 8:34 on the clock in the second quarter it was time for MetLife to see the rookie. With rapturous applause and cheers from the expectant crowd, Sam Darnold took to the field. Sporting his fresh new number 14 jersey, Darnold looked confident and a man in control of his emotions. His pocket presence was on point and he showed good foot movement when under pressure. Darnold went on to complete his first NFL touchdown on his second drive in the game with a 14 yard touchdown pass to Charles Johnson. By the time the two had connected for the six points, it could have been the third score for Darnold, as he had two others called back for penalties. He finished the game 13/18 for 96 yards and a touchdown. Darnold certainly didn't hurt his chances of being the starter week one but then neither did Bridgewater. More is sure to follow in their next matchup with the Redskins.
Interestingly, the Jets started the game with Bilal Powell in the backfield even after picking up the aforementioned Crowell. Crowell came off the bench and looked good running behind a line which got some push. His 16 yard touchdown catch was impressive, but he unfortunately left the field with a head injury and has now being placed on the concussion protocol. All you needed to do was to see the touchdown play to know Crowell was concussed. It’s preseason game one, Isaiah! Do you really need to be trucking through people in game one?
With Elijah McGuire out and Powell averaging a poor 0.8 yards a carry, it fell to rookie Trenton Cannon to be the primary ball carrier. His last name sure is appropriate, as he continued to show the elusiveness and speed he flashed in training camp, running for 11 yards and 6 yards on his first two carries. He finished the game with 11 carries for 44 yards at a decent 3.6 yards a carry. His punt return skills are unpolished at best, as he muffed two punt returns Friday night. Both were luckily recovered by the Jets, but one has to wonder why Bowles continues with this mission after Cannon looked like he didn't know how to punt return in camp either. Only time will tell on this one.
The starting defense made a short cameo appearance but held the Falcons to back-to-back three-and-outs. Rookie Nathan Shepherd, playing with the first-teamers, made an immediate impact with two tackles in the first two drives. The former division two defensive end looked at home on a big stage and will be a huge addition if he continues to improve at his current rate. Jordan Jenkins and Buster Skrine both also shone on opening night, even with Skrine injured on a play which saw the first flag against the Jets for lowering of the helmet. He was listed as probable to return, but didn’t play again because this is the preseason. Expect to see more as preseason winds through the gears from the defense, but as a start, it was a decent one.
The tight end situation is about as clear as pond water right now with Neal Sterling going down injured in the game against the Falcons. He looked impressive after making four catches for 38 yards, but he then suffered an ankle injury which didn't look great. Rookie tight end Chris Herndon, who has been electric in training camp, wasn’t even on the sideline for Friday’s game. Bowles said he is suffering from bruises picked up in training camp and it shouldn't be a problem going forward. This only leaves the Jets with a thinned out tight end corps of Clive Walford and Eric Tomlinson available as of right now, so watch this position closely.
All in all, it was as an impressive display of football to start the season against a lackluster and studless Falcons team as the Jets could have hoped for. Should Sam Darnold start the season for the Jets? I don't think so. As the youngest quarterback to ever suit up in the NFL and with only two years of college game behind him, it seems sensible for him to sit behind and study from the vets in front of him. That being said, if Teddy Bridgewater is showing himself off enough to get traded away and McCown then gets injured, it could be all thrusters go for Darnold anyway. Expect to see more of Darnold under center against the now Guice-less Redskins this week.