EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Sam Darnold sparkled in his NFL debut, Teddy Bridgewater looked sharp and healthy, and the New York Jets earned the franchise’s first preseason home shutout by beating the sluggish Atlanta Falcons 17-0 on Friday night.
Darnold, the No. 3 overall draft pick in April, was the Jets’ third quarterback of the game, following Josh McCown and Bridgewater. The former USC star was greeted by loud cheers and a standing ovation as he jogged onto the field at MetLife Stadium with 8:41 to go in the first half.
Darnold’s first series ended in a punt and his non-throwing left hand was checked out by trainers on the sideline after it was stepped on. But he was fine and wore a glove in the second half.
He got the crowd on its feet again just before halftime, throwing a 14-yard touchdown pass to Charles Johnson that gave New York a 17-0 lead.
The 21-year-old Darnold showed the poise of a veteran on the drive while completing six straight passes to get to the Falcons 3. He would’ve had a seventh consecutive completion, but his throw into the end zone was dropped by Johnson. Darnold went right back to Johnson on the next play, and the receiver caught a 3-yard pass for a TD — but was called for offensive pass interference.
On third-and-14, Darnold again threw to Johnson while rolling to his right and zipping in a pass for the score.
Darnold, who finished 13 of 18 for 96 yards, missed the first three days of training camp before his representatives and the Jets agreed on a fully guaranteed four-year, $30.25 million deal that included a $20 million signing bonus. He quickly made up for the missed time, and is being given every opportunity to win the starting job.
McCown is the incumbent and started the game, but played just one series — as he did last summer when New York wanted extended looks at Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. The 39-year-old veteran completed his only throw, a 4-yard toss to Neal Sterling.
Bridgewater came out with the starting offense for the Jets’ second possession and led New York down the field on a scoring drive, capped by Isaiah Crowell’s 16-yard catch-and-run to the end zone.
Crowell, in his first game with the Jets after four seasons in Cleveland, was evaluated for a head injury after taking a few hard hits on the play. He didn’t return.
Bridgewater, who suffered a serious knee injury in practice while with Minnesota nearly two years ago, converted a third-and-11 with an 8-yard pass to Robby Anderson — while also taking a hard hit from Takk McKinley and bouncing back up. On fourth-and-3 from the Falcons 40, Bridgewater connected with Jermaine Kearse for a 6-yard gain and a first down to keep the drive alive.
Playing with the backup offensive line on his second series, Bridgewater led New York on another scoring drive capped by Taylor Bertolet’s 45-yard field goal.
Bridgewater finished 7 of 8 for 85 yards and the TD.
Matt Ryan played the first series for the Falcons, and completed his only attempt to rookie Calvin Ridley for a 2-yard loss.
He was replaced by veteran Matt Schaub, who went 9 of 9 for 54 yards while playing the rest of the first half.
Atlanta got its initial first down of the game with 10 seconds left in the first half on Schaub’s 10-yard pass to Eric Saubert. The Falcons finished with 11 first downs. New York, which had 12 in the first half, ended up with 15.
Players from both teams stood during the anthem, with no demonstrations. The Jets linked arms on the sideline, including owner Christopher Johnson, as they did last season.
Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman did not play, despite being healthy. Kicker Matt Bryant and offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo had previously been scratched by coach Dan Quinn.
Several Jets didn’t play, including rookie tight end Chris Herndon, who wasn’t spotted on the sideline during the game. Also out because of injuries were: left tackle Kelvin Beachum, linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin, defensive tackle Deon Simon, rookie cornerback Parry Nickerson, and running back Eli McGuire.
Atlanta tried to stop the shutout in the closing seconds, but David Marvin was short on a 42-yard field-goal attempt as time expired.
There were three penalties called under the new rule prohibiting players from leading with their helmets, including two in a three-play span. Jets cornerback Buster Skrine was called on a kickoff return by running back Ito Smith, who was penalized for lowering heads moments later while blocking on a second-down play.
The third infraction was on Atlanta safety Damontae Kazee late in the second quarter.
Sterling left in the third quarter with an ankle injury and didn’t return. … Skrine left the game after injuring his shoulder during the play on which he was penalized. … Falcons backup guard Jamil Douglas left with a finger injury.
Falcons: home vs. Kansas City on Aug. 17.
Jets: at Washington on Aug. 16.
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