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Miami Dolphins 20, Jets 12: Sam Darnold and Jets Fall Back to Earth in Loss to Dolphins

Miami Dolphins 20, Jets 12

Sam Darnold, the Jets’ rookie quarterback, was sacked in the second half against the Dolphins on Sunday.CreditCreditMichael Owens/Getty Images

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Even by Jets standards, it was a strange week. There was the blowout win in Detroit six days earlier. Then there was the chief executive, Christopher Johnson, declaring his team as “one to be reckoned with.” There was Edwin Anzalone, the famous fan known as Fireman Ed, relenting from his six-year boycott of home games and leading the “J-E-T-S” chant again after calling it quits in 2012. There was hope, promise, expectations, and other fluttery feelings that are rare guests at MetLife Stadium for a Jets home opener.

It was a lot. Maybe too much. As great as the Jets looked in their 31-point thumping of the Lions on Monday, there was an equally dissatisfying fallback to mediocrity in a loss to the division-rival Miami Dolphins, 20-12, on Sunday.

[Follow our live coverage of N.F.L. Week 2 here]

From the moment they landed back home, the Jets emphatically sought to turn the page from the Detroit victory. It was one game, they said. Defensive tackle Steve McLendon, the team’s vocal leader, reminded the locker room that they needed to focus on going 1-0 each week.

Outside the locker room, excitement swelled. The Jets had not started 2-0 since 2015. The No. 14 jersey worn by the rookie quarterback Sam Darnold filled the stadium, and fans cheered him when he jogged on to the field on Sunday. Coach Todd Bowles did not expect the success to go quickly to Darnold’s head, after his poise and stoicism were lauded after he threw an interception on his first play in Week 1.

“I didn’t expect him to go from Jekyll to Hyde,” Bowles said this week.

But rookie performances can radically differ from game to game, and the Jets tasted that volatility in Week 2. Darnold threw 41 times for 334 yards but also threw two interceptions and struggled to sustain momentum despite being handed opportunities by the Jets’ defense, which again forced multiple turnovers.

The most demoralizing play occurred midway through the third quarter. After trailing, 20-0, at the half, the Jets quickly scored on a 75-yard drive. On the next drive, Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill fumbled while he was sacked by Jordan Jenkins, who recovered at the Miami 12.

But, gifted a chance to trim the Dolphins lead to seven, Darnold’s first pass was intercepted in the back of the end zone as he overthrew his receiver, Terrelle Pryor.

“I let him down,” Pryor said, regretting the way he had run the route. “I told him after the game, ‘I hope you forgive me, because I should have been there.’”

Darnold, who became the youngest quarterback in N.F.L. history to throw for more than 300 yards in a game, showed flashes of his tantalizing potential. Afterward, he spoke about his miscues as learnable lessons, particularly in the red zone.

“We’ve got to make them pay for turning the ball over,” Darnold said. “We just gave it right back to it.”

He added, “Another play you’d like to have back.”

The Jets gathered more first downs and totaled 115 more yards than Miami, which lost two fumbles and were held scoreless in the second half.

“Honestly, we beat ourselves,” said wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, who led the team with 92 yards on seven catches. “It’s frustrating, but I think we’ll be able to watch the film and see a silver lining. We’ll see how talented we are.”

The Jets could have kept the first-half deficit to 14, but for a defensive-holding call on Morris Claiborne with 1 minute 7 seconds remaining that voided a sack on third down and gave the Dolphins an automatic first down at the Jets’ 28.

Two plays later, Tannehill found tight end A. J. Derby in the end zone to go ahead by three scores.

The Jets seemed in position to at least cut into that lead before the end of the half. But with only 10 seconds and no timeouts remaining, tight end Chris Herndon caught Darnold’s pass at the 2, fumbled at the 1, recovered the ball and was tackled with mere inches to go. But by then, time had expired with the Jets still left off the board.

“I should have did what I have to do to get in the end zone,” Herndon said.

Still, there was hope for a late comeback. In the huddle, Darnold kept reminding his teammates to chip away, chip away.

With less than four minutes remaining, and the Dolphins facing third-and-19, the crowd grew its loudest. The pocket closed around Tannehill, but he found running back Frank Gore open underneath with enough room to scamper for the necessary yards, ending a wild week for the Jets at an even 1-1.

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