Despite his first professional interception, Darnold — drafted third overall — received a positive review from coach Todd Bowles, who said his quarterback decision remains “cloudy” because all three quarterbacks are viable starters.
“It’s always been cloudy, it’s never changed,” Bowles said after a 15-13 loss at FedEx Field. “It’s the same. It’ll be a tough choice. We’ve still got two more games to play and we’ll go from there.”
As expected, Darnold got the start and played the first half before yielding to Teddy Bridgewater. Darnold (8-for-11, 62 yards) made some impressive throws, but his last one was a turnover — a fourth-down interception in the red zone.
Bowles absolved Darnold of any blame, saying it was a poor play call.
“As coaches, we have to eat that one,” Bowles said.
Bowles said he would make his starting quarterback decision after the fourth preseason game. The organization will give Darnold every opportunity to win the job, but it might not be a clear-cut call. Bridgewater, who threw a touchdown and an interception, has made it more competitive than anticipated.
“I thought they played well,” Bowles said of Bridgewater and Darnold. “I thought they were gritty in some adverse situations. They hung in there tough and played well. … We don’t like turnovers — but I thought they fought and played in tougher situations than last week.”
The Jets’ pass protection was spotty, putting both quarterback under duress at times. Incumbent Josh McCown, 39, was in uniform but didn’t play. This night was all about Darnold and Bridgewater, who could be trade bait.
Darnold got a chance to play with the starters for the first time. He played only three series, including a 12-play, 42-yard drive for a field goal. He connected with six different receivers in the game and showed poise in the pocket.
On the downside, Darnold took a third-down sack in the red zone and, on his next possession, he forced a fourth-and-1 pass into double coverage. He didn’t read safety Deshazor Everett, who undercut a short pass to Jermaine Kearse. Everett tipped the ball and it was intercepted by safety Troy Apke at the Redskins’ 16-yard line.
“I just had to get rid of it,” Darnold said. “Yeah, it’s a turnover — it’s an interception — but it’s not the worst thing that could’ve happened.”
Overall, Darnold said he was encouraged by his progress. Noting that he played only three years of quarterback in high school and college, he said, “Every single game I play is huge. I feel like I’m going to continue to grow and get better every single day. That’s what I’m most excited about.”
Bridgewater (10-for-15, 127 yards) provided the highlight of the night — a 17-yard touchdown pass to Charone Peake — but he followed up with an interception on an underthrown deep ball to Charles Johnson.
The former Minnesota Vikings starter, who suffered a gruesome knee injury in 2016, adsorbed several hits and came away unscathed. Afterward, he said he actually ran the ball a couple of times just so he could get hit, testing his surgically repaired knee.
“I told him I have a neighborhood where he could get hit quite a bit if that’s what he wants,” Bowles joked.
In two games, Bridgewater has led the offense to 20 points in eight possessions. He has completed 74 percent of his attempts (17-for-23) for 212 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Darnold’s numbers are similar: 72 percent (21-for-29) for 158 yards, one touchdown and one interception. But in 10 possessions, he has led the offense to only 10 points. “We’re going to play the best guy,” Bowles said. “We take our notes. I’m not going to sit here and evaluate them second by second every game in the public.”
The Jets play the New York Giants next Friday night.