EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Sam Darnold gave the Jets’ struggling offense a huge boost by throwing two touchdown passes in his return from mononucleosis, and New York held on to beat the Dallas Cowboys, 24-22 on Sunday night for their first win of the season.
The Jets led 21-9 in the fourth quarter, but Dak Prescott and the top-ranked Cowboys offense stormed back — and had a chance to tie in the closing moments.
Prescott ran for a 4-yard touchdown with 43 seconds left, making it a two-point game. Going for the tie, Prescott dropped back and was quickly met by a blitzing Jamal Adams and his pass on the conversion try fell short of Jason Witten in the end zone.
The Cowboys (3-3) tried an onside kick, but Demaryius Thomas recovered for the Jets (1-4), who won for the first time under coach Adam Gase. It was the third straight loss for Dallas.
Darnold, who missed three games while recovering from mononucleosis, finished 23 of 32 for 338 yards — including a 92-yard touchdown toss to Robby Anderson and a 5-yarder to Ryan Griffin. Le’Veon Bell also ran for a score, his first on the ground with the Jets.
The Cowboys played without starting tackles La’el Collins and Tyron Smith, and star wide receiver Amari Cooper was sidelined most of the game with a quadriceps injury. But Dallas made it a five-point game on Ezekiel Elliott’s 5-yard run with 6:30 remaining, capping an 11-play, 84-yard drive.
Sam Ficken’s 38-yard field goal with 3:24 left made it 24-16 — but the Cowboys had one more long drive in them, helped by a few penalties on the Jets. After a pass interference call on Adams put the ball at the Jets 16, Prescott ran for 8 yards. Following an incomplete pass to Tavon Austin, Elliott ran for 4 yards to set up Prescott’s TD run.
Prescott was 28 of 40 for 277 yards. Elliott finished with 105 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries.
Cooper left late in the first quarter and was on the sideline without his helmet early in the second quarter. He had one catch for 3 yards.
Darnold came out throwing in his first snap since the season opener and connected with Thomas for a 17-yard gain. But, Robert Quinn sacked him on the next play and the drive stalled — making it 29 straight games the Jets have failed to score a touchdown on their opening possession, the longest active streak in the NFL.
But, Darnold and the Jets got on the scoreboard on their second drive, capped Bell’s 2-yard touchdown run.
Darnold was efficient on the 14-play, 83-yard drive, going 6 of 8 for 43 yards. New York was also helped by three penalties on Dallas, including a horse-collar tackle of Darnold by Maliek Collins on third-and-goal from the 7 that gave the Jets the ball at the 2.
Brett Maher booted a 50-yard field goal to open the second quarter and cut Dallas’ deficit to 7-3.
Prescott and the Cowboys marched down the field and got to the Jets 6, but stalled. Elliott lost a yard on third down and Jason Garrett opted to go for it on four-and-2 from the 7. Prescott took the ball on a keeper, but was stuffed by rookie Quinnen Williams for a loss of a yard — and a turnover on downs.
Darnold came out on the very next play and found a wide-open Anderson zipping down the field and hit him in stride for a 92-yard touchdown to put the Jets up 14-3 with 3:34 left in the opening half. It was the second-longest reception in franchise history behind the 96-yard TD catch by Wesley Walker on a pass from Ken O’Brien at Buffalo on Dec. 8, 1985.
Darnold and the Jets weren’t done in the half. After the Cowboys went three-and-out, New York got the Ball at its 35. An 11-yard catch by Griffin and a 33-yard grab by Thomas put the ball at the 17. Griffin then caught a pass over the middle and dragged a few defenders along for a 12-yard gain. Darnold went right back to Griffin, who snagged the pass, spun and reached over the goal line for a 5-yard touchdown to give the Jets a 21-3 lead.
Maher tied his franchise record by kicking a 62-yard field goal as the first half ended, making it 21-6. It was also the longest field goal ever made against the Jets. Maher also made a 62-yarder against the Eagles last December, making him the first kicker in NFL history, according to Sportradar, with two field goals of at least 62 yards.
Denver’s Matt Prater holds the NFL record for longest field goal, kicking a 64-yarder in 2013.
Dallas opened the second half with a long possession, holding the ball for 7 minutes, 10 seconds, but came away with only three points on Maher’s 32-yard field goal — after a 4-yard touchdown catch by Jason Witten was wiped away by an offensive pass interference call on Cedrick Wilson.
The Jets were driving late in the third quarter, but Jourdan Lewis intercepted Darnold’s pass intended for Crowder. Darnold had thrown 179 consecutive passes without being picked off, dating to Week 14 of last season at Buffalo.
Dallas couldn’t take advantage, though, as Maher’s 40-yard attempt sailed wide right 51 seconds into the fourth quarter.