EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The New York Jets' already intriguing quarterback competition just got a lot more interesting.
Thanks to a poised Sam Darnold. And a sharp and healthy Teddy Bridgewater.
Josh McCown is still No. 1 on the depth chart, but the other two quarterbacks made big-time statements in the Jets' 17-0 preseason-opening victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Friday night.
"We'll see how the preseason goes," coach Todd Bowles said after the game. "I'll make my decision when it happens. I'm not going to jump to any conclusions after one game. I'm going to take my notes and watch practice and compare with the coaches and we'll come up with a decision. It's a tough decision.
"We have three good players and we're happy to have them."
Bowles has said that the competition could last through the fourth preseason game, and he didn't back off that when asked if that were still the case.
"Probably," the coach said in his typically understated fashion.
While Bowles isn't about to start making any premature proclamations, there was plenty for the Jets and their fans to get excited about.
McCown played just one series and was replaced by Bridgewater, who led New York to scores on both of his possessions. Then, Darnold jogged onto the field at MetLife Stadium to an ovation befitting a guy considered by many to be the savior of the franchise.
The No. 3 overall pick in the draft showed poise, accuracy, playmaking ability on the run and veteran-like cool in his NFL debut.
"I thought I played pretty good," Darnold said. "I think I just put the ball where it needed to be, tried to get it in the hands of our playmakers."
The former USC star finished 13 of 18 for 96 yards, including a touchdown pass to Charles Johnson during which he rolled right and zipped the football into the end zone to his receiver while on the run. That came after Darnold brushed off a drop and an offensive pass interference penalty — both on Johnson — leading to the score.
"Poise. Again, the poise in the pocket," Bowles said. "Obviously, the touchdown throw. The scramble was very good use of his feet and accuracy, but he does that in practice all the time, so I can't say it impressed me because we see it every day. Just his handling of game situations. There are things he can get better at, but it's a good start for him."
Darnold was quick to point out a negative moment, namely when he was sacked by Jonathan Celestin in the fourth quarter.
"I feel like I could've gotten that ball out on the shallow (route) there, but you live and you learn I guess," he said. "So, I'm just going to watch the tape and see really what exactly happened on some of the plays, but I thought I did pretty well. I took care of the football, which was my main priority."
The Jets are giving Darnold every opportunity to win the starting job, and the rookie appeared well on his way to doing so while working with backups against the Falcons.
New York takes on Washington next Thursday, and it remains to be seen how Bowles will split the snaps among the quarterbacks. The next step for Darnold might be playing with the starters.
Bridgewater was also impressive in his Jets debut, showing flashes of the player who was a Pro Bowl selection with the Vikings before a severe knee injury sidelined him for most of the last two years.
He looked comfortable and even took a hard shot during a play, immediately bouncing up from the turf.
"It felt good getting hit again," Bridgewater said with a smile. "You never want the quarterback getting hit, but for me, it was the final step of the process. Got hit, got right back up and it just served as a reminder that the game is still the same."
Bridgewater capped his first series with a touchdown toss to Isaiah Crowell, and led the Jets to a field goal on his second drive.
He finished 7 of 8 for 85 yards, and looked every bit like a starting-caliber quarterback — for New York or perhaps another team as potential trade bait if Darnold continues to progress rapidly and leaves no doubt as to who should be under center when the Jets open the regular season at Detroit.
"If you're a football fan and you enjoy the sport, it's fun to be a part of," McCown said. "And to get a front-row seat and more importantly to just go out and want to see them accomplish the things that we talk about in our quarterback room on a daily basis is huge and they did that and so we couldn't be happier. I'm really excited for them and now it's back to work."
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