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Jets Lose Opener To Sam Darnold and The Panthers | Takeaways From The Game

The Jets opened up their 2021 football campaign in Carolina against their former 1st round draft pick Sam Darnold. Over the off-season they traded away the touted QB of the future for next in line Zach Wilson. When the 2021 NFL schedule was released, Carolina vs New York was circled on the week 1 slate of games as “The Sam Darnold Revenge Game.” Darnold stated via that if he felt any vindication, his simple answer was “No, not for me”

The Sam Darnold Revenge Game?

The game didn’t feel like a revenge game, but more of a “What could’ve been” type of game. Jets fans and the rest of the NFL saw the potential of the former 3rd overall pick freed from the chains of the Adam Gase regime. We have seen the writing on the wall with Ryan Tannehill leaving Miami and taking the reins in Tennessee, now we have another sample with Sam Darnold. 

In his first game in Carolina Darnold looked calm and collected, didn’t try to force any throws and took what the defense was giving him. He was well protected all game, only taking one sack for a nine yard loss. Darnold had great rapport with wide out Robby Anderson when they were in New York together and it looked like nothing changed on Sunday. Darnold tossed a 57 yard bomb to Anderson in the second quarter to remind Jet fans and the rest of the league that he can toss the deep ball with great precision. With the exception of botching 4th and goal snap in the 2nd quarter, Darnold played a great game of football. For the 1st time in his still young career the football world saw his potential from game start to game finish. 

What Can Jets Fans Take Away From The Loss?

Now that the easy story line is out the way, let’s shift focus to Robert Salah, Zach Wilson and the 2021 New York Jets. They have now lost 3 straight week 1 games, they’re last win…? Week 1 Monday night blowout against Detroit in Sam Darnolds’ NFL debut. Week 1 there were a lot of good things that the Jets did and can build on greatly. There are also a few things the Jets need to very badly fix and address before the season gets away from them.

The Good

Corey Davis and Zach Wilson Look Freat Together

They connected yesterday 5 times of 7 targets for 97 yards and 2 touchdowns. The 1st time they connected in the end zone, Wilson looked smooth and comfortable and he rolled out of the pocket to his right and slung the ball 30 yards down field to a wide open Davis. NFL experts and analysis have compared Zach Wilson to Aaron Rodgers this pre-season, it’s moments like these they are referring too. 

Zach Wilson and Braxton Berrios Have Chemistry Brewing in the Slot

Wilson found Berrios 5 times on 7 targets for 51 yards. They converted a huge 4th & 8 late in the 4th quarter that led to a late TD to keep the game alive, before eventually falling 19-14. Berrios has quick burts and was able to use that and be Wilson’s safety net over the middle through-out the game. If Berrios and Wilson are able to develop their routes together over the course of the season, both them and the team will be in good hands. 

The Defense Stepped Up and Held Carolina to 19 Points

This was a 1st half // 2nd half game. They forced a huge red zone turnover at a crucial point in the 2nd quarter to keep the game scoreless. There 2 blemishes were getting burned deep by Anderson in the 2nd quarter and then letting Darnold and Co. march right down the field for a big score right before half time. Those moments they looked very out of sorts and scrambled all over the field. 

Honorable Mention

Denzel Mims Caught a Huge 40-yard Reception on the Jets Last Drive to Set them up in the Red Zone

Keeping Mims healthy and on the field will be a massive key to Zach Wilsons development and the Jets offensive as a whole. Mims and Davis are 2 big guys that can stretch the field. Finding ways to incorporate Mims in this offense is huge and needs to be done and can’t be overlooked.

The Bad

Slow Start on Offense for Zach Wilson and Co.

The running game was non-existent. They were being shut-out until the 3rd quarter. The Jets first trip to the red zone didn’t happen until the 4th quarter. If this was a 5 quarter game the Jets might have been able to pull a come from behind win. Moving forward they can’t afford to turn on the engines in the 2nd half, especially against teams that will put you behind 21-0 before you blink. They need to build momentum and drive early in the game. The Jets first four possessions were terrible. On the first drive they went six plays then punted. The next time they got the ball they went three and out. Then two drives later, Zach Wilson throws his first interception. Carolina was more than happy to oblige in this game of football turned tennis, but against upper echelon teams in the NFL, this trend can’t continue to happen. Zach Wilson needs to get comfy early, build momentum, and put points on the board early. 

The Defense Only Generated One Turnover And One Sack

Even though I just praised the Jets D for keeping this game competitive and in check. The fact they could only generate one turnover off of a botched hand-off is not going to get games won on Sundays. A lot of the Jets defensive players know first hand how antsy Darnold can get. They did very little to make him feel that. Carolina did a great job of protecting him. Being able to dump the ball off to McCaffery certainly helps Darnold. However, it’s no excuse. Jonathan Franklin-Meyers recorded the only sack for the Jets on Carolina’s first drive of the 2nd half. Playing against a QB who has “seen ghosts” on the grid-iron, The Jets did very little to pressure him and send intricate blitzes his way. 

The Offensive Line Needs to be Better Protecting Wilson & Run Blocking

Wilson was sacked 6 times yesterday and hit another 10. For a team that has invested heavily in their offensive line in the past 2 drafts, they looked out of sorts. Mekhi Becton left the game with a knee injury, early MRI tests show a sprained MCL. This is a slight bit of good news. In real time it looked a lot worse and potentially season ending. George Fant shifted over to Becton’s spot at Left Tackle and Morgan Moses moved in at Right Tackle. The O-line needs to be better protecting Zach. We saw last year with Joe Burrow the detriments of having bad protection. Adjustments need to be made fast by OC Mike Lefleur and O-line coach John Benton. 

Final Thoughts

The Jets were competitive in this game till the final 2 minutes. Even though they lost, playing competitive football is a breath of fresh air. Week 2 is a big division matchup against the Mac Jones led New England Patriots. Wilson vs Jones is a matchup we could be seeing a lot for the next 5+ years. No team in the AFC East looked good in week 1. Miami managed to squeak out a win but it wasn’t very convincing by any means. The season is still very young and completely wide open. The Jets have the tools necessary to be competitive in the league this year. When Wilson gets rolling he looks like a natural. However, one thing that has eluded this team for nearly 5 years now is the ability to play four full quarters of football. That is my big story line of the season. There is a lot of swirling potential this season, excitement like this hasn’t been present for years. It’s going to be really exciting to watch this era of New York Jets football develop for the rest of this season and seasons to come.

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