Spleens are not sexy organs. A quarterback can be called the heart of a team, the brains of the operation, and sometimes even the soul (and some are called dicks). No quarterback has ever been called a team’s spleen. But spleens are important too: They filter the immune system to prevent disease and infections in the blood, and if there is one way to describe the Jets’ month without Sam Darnold, it’s diseased and infected. Darnold and the Jets defeated the Dallas Cowboys 24-22 on Sunday for their first win of the season, purifying the Jets of their toxins.
A month ago Darnold was diagnosed with mononucleosis. He instantly became a meme. Mono enlarges your spleen, putting it at risk of rupture upon impact. For the people who don’t get tackled for a living—those who got mono Thanksgiving break of freshman year of college—this is not an issue. But for Darnold, spleen bursting was a real workplace hazard. “I want to make sure I’m safe out there and I’m not going to die,” Darnold said before Week 5.
Darnold practiced last week but did not return to game action until Sunday against Dallas, which still felt like a risky decision. The Eagles sacked quarterback Luke Falk nine times last week, and then added another against backup quarterback David Fales in Philly’s 31-6 destruction of New York. As a precaution, Darnold had a special padding added to his ribs to protect his spleen area. He barely needed it. Darnold was sacked just twice for 12 yards while completing 23-of-32 passes for 338 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception while outdueling Dak Prescott. The 326 net passing yards were a career high. They were also more passing yards than the Jets had in their previous three games combined.
Darnold knocked the rust off on the Jets’ second drive, when he found receiver Jamison Crowder for a 24-yard pass along the sideline.
The Jets went three-and-out on each of their next two drives for a combined negative-3 yards. But the Jets stopped a Dallas drive by stuffing Dak Prescott on a fourth-and-2 rush that gave the Jets the ball at their own 8-yard line. Backed up to a long play, Darnold faked a run to Le’Veon Bell, stepped up and launched a pass for receiver Robby Anderson, who streaked past diving safety Jeff Heath for a 92-yard touchdown. It’s the longest play from scrimmage in the league so far this year.
Two plays after the Cowboys went for it on fourth instead of kicking a field goal to cut the Jets’ lead to 7-6, the Jets took a 14-3 lead with 3:34 left in the second quarter. Dallas went three-and-out, giving the Jets the ball back at the two-minute warning, and Darnold conducted a six-play, 65-yard touchdown drive in just 93 seconds. The Jets (the Jets!) were up 21-6 on Dallas at halftime.
In typical Jets fashion, they almost blew it. Darnold threw a pick on New York’s first drive of the second half, and the Cowboys nearly tied the game with under a minute to go. But Dallas’s two-point attempt down 24-22 was blown up by blitzing safety Jamal Adams.
Almost immediately, the Jets’ social media team, uh, reclaimed the Darnold mono conversation.
Without Darnold, the Jets were barely an NFL team. Backup Trevor Siemian injured his ankle in a start against Cleveland on Monday Night Football. Luke Falk, bless his heart, started at New England and at Philadelphia—on the road against the last two Super Bowl champions—in his first two career starts. In those two games, he threw for 218 yards, no touchdowns, and three picks, and took 14 (!) sacks. On Saturday, the Jets cut him. It’s a heartless end to Falk’s Jets tenure, but perhaps it was necessary to excise the most visible part of such a brutal stretch. With Darnold back, the Jets’ fever has broken.