EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It was billed as a matchup of two of the top quarterback picks in the 2018 draft: New York’s Sam Darnold, the No. 3 overall selection, and Buffalo’s Josh Allen, taken seventh.
Last season, Darnold won their only meeting — Allen was injured for the game at the Meadowlands — rallying the Jets for a 27-23 win at New Era Field.
In matchup No. 2, Sunday afternoon at soldout MetLife Stadium, one of them was 28-of-41 passing with a touchdown, no interceptions, and an acceptable 84.9 passer rating. The other was 24-of-37 with two interceptions, a third voided by a penalty away from the play, a fourth was dropped, and he also fumbled twice en route to a 71.2 passer score.
Guess who won?
Yup, the second guy.
Allen completely dismissed a disastrous first half when he turned the ball over four times, and nearly endured a fifth, and composed himself over Buffalo’s first two possessions of the final quarter to go 8-for-10 through the air for 102 yards.
He ended the first drive with a 3-yard touchdown, then hit wide receiver John Brown for the game-winner, a 38-yard connection, in an unlikely 17-16 victory.
OF HIS tough first half, Allen admitted, “A couple of things happened that didn’t go our way, but we understood if we took care of what we had to take care of, we would have success.
“We were moving the ball well (167 yards to the Jets 104 before intermission) but I put the ball in a couple of spots where it shouldn’t have been. We got lucky with some and some went the other way. But our defense was playing fantastic and we knew we were going to have a shot in the second half.”
He added of his four first-half turnovers, “I was careless with the ball on the (first) fumble (during a sack), I was a little low on the pass to Cole (Beasley, which was deflected and returned for a “pick six”) and on the fumble with Mitch (Morse, center) … it was really loud and there was a missed communication. It’s something I have to clean up.”
His second pick was tipped at the line of scrimmage and fell into the hands of a New York linebacker.
“But we sat in the lockerroom at halftime thinking ‘This is the worst it could have gone’ and we’re down six points,” Allen pointed out. “We understood we still had a shot in the game … nothing too crazy to overcome, we were down one score.
“I don’t think many teams can turn the ball over four times in the first half and be down (only) 6-0.”
AFTERWARD, a frustrated Darnold admitted, “Whenever you have the lead going into the fourth quarter, that’s never a result you want. We need to fight and finish throughout the fourth.
“Our offense — myself — need to do a better job of finishing drives. We couldn’t get into a rhythm and I put that on myself. When our defense forces four turnovers and we don’t have any as an offense (technically the Jets had one on the game’s final play when a lateral was fumbled and Buffalo recovered) ...we need to win the ballgame.”
One particular annoyance to the Jets QB was that, at 6-foot-3, he still had five balls batted down at the line of scrimmage.
“They do a really good job of that … maybe the best in the league,” said Darnold, who also missed three relatively open deep throws. “They’ve been doing it to everyone even last year. But you don’t anticipate them batting that many balls down.”
WHEN ASKED about the impact of such an unlikely win, Allen allowed, “Everybody stayed cool and calm … we’ve got some real professional football players on this team. We came out and understood that the first half is not who we were, developed a game plan in the second half, and found a way to win.”
“(The victory) does a lot. It implements some confidence on both sides of the ball. When we’re called on to do our job, we’re going to go out there and execute. It’s the same for the defense. We wish it was different circumstances in the first half, but nobody on our team flinched.”
And at the end, Darnold did.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com)