Rookie quarterbacks have the benefit of mystery to accompany their intrigue.
Most defenses don’t know how to play them early in their careers because there isn’t a big enough sample size of film that shows their strengths, tendencies, favorite plays and exposes weaknesses.
But that didn’t stop the Miami Dolphins from ruining Sam Darnold’s MetLife Stadium debut by consistently pressuring the New York Jets’ rookie quarterback, and forcing him to make tough throws all game.
The Dolphins sacked Darnold three times and pulled down two interceptions from the Jets’ first-round pick during Sunday’s 20-12 win, which allowed the Dolphins to improve to 2-0 heading into next Sunday’s 1 p.m. home game against the Oakland Raiders. This is the first time the Dolphins are 2-0 since the 2013 season.
“Just missed opportunities,” said Darnold, who competed 25-of-41 passes for a career-high 334 yards while throwing one touchdown and two interceptions. “You look at all the plays that you wish you could have back.”
The win strengthened Miami’s argument that coach Adam Gase’s team should be viewed as the second best in the AFC East, ahead of the Jets (1-1) and the Buffalo Bills (0-2).
The Dolphins got the victory by playing complementary football for four quarters, which is something this team rarely did last season.
“Complementary football, that’s how you’re going to win the game consistently,” said pass rusher Cameron Wake. “You can’t have one side doing their job and the other dropping the ball.”
Miami’s running game wasn’t as efficient as it was in the opener against the Tennessee Titans, where the Dolphins gained 126 rushing yards in a 27-20 season-opening victory. But Miami’s ground game did produce 135 yards on 31 carries, and Frank Gore moved ahead of Curtis Martin for fourth place on the NFL’s all-time rushing list.
Gore came into Sunday’s game needing just 15 rushing yards to pass Martin, who produced a Hall of Fame career in his 11 years of playing for the Jets and New England Patriots. Gore finished the game with 25 yards on nine carries and called the record “a blessing.”
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who finished the game with a 123.1 passer rating, was fairly efficient when he was upright. The Jets got plenty of pressure on Tannehill, who was sacked four times, because Miami’s offensive line, which was playing its first game with Ted Larsen as Josh Sitton’s replacement at left guard because of the season-ending shoulder injury Sitton suffered last Sunday, struggled at times.
Tannehill fumbled twice on sacks, and his last one put the Jets inside the red zone immediately after New York got on the board with a 28-yard touchdown reception by Jets tailback Bilal Powell, who got behind Dolphins linebacker Reakwon McMillan and slipped a Reshad Jones tackle.
But cornerback Xavien Howard intercepted Darnold in the end zone on the first play of that possession, ended that Jets’ scoring threat, and returned possession back to the Dolphins.
However, Miami’s offense was apparently in a generous mood, and gave the Jets back possession late in the third quarter when center Daniel Kilgore had a bad snap and Jets linebacker Avery Williamson recovered it the Jets’ 41-yard line.
The Jets concluded that possession with a 55-yard field goal from Jason Myers that closed the deficit to 11 points with 10 minutes left in the game.
After a three-and-out by Miami’s offense, the Jets marched down the field in 3 minutes and 5 seconds and Myers converted a 41-yard field goal, cutting the deficit to eight points.
But the Dolphins sealed the victory when Tannehill found Gore while under pressure on third-and-19 on a check-down pass that delivered the needed yards.
“Frank made a great catch and had the awareness to not only get the first down, but then get down to finish the game,” coach Adam Gase said about the clinching play, which gave Miami a fresh set of downs a the Jets’ 26-yard line with 2:49 left in the game.
From there Miami continued to drain the clock by running Tannehill for a first down, and kneeling to close out the game in scoring territory. And with New England’s (1-1) loss to Jacksonville, the Dolphins are in first place in the AFC East.
“We were able to stand up when we needed to,” said safety T.J. McDonald, who pulled down a first-quarter interception. “That’s something that in the past we weren’t able to do.”