The Jets did the seemingly unthinkable on Sunday. They won.
In perhaps the biggest upset of the season, the formerly winless Jets (1-13) knocked off the Los Angeles Rams (9-5) in convincing fashion, building a 17-point lead in the third quarter and then holding off the Rams’ high-powered offense to win their first game of the season, 23-20, in Inglewood, Calif.
The Rams, who are battling the Seattle Seahawks for the N.F.C. West crown, were 17-point favorites. The Jets, who were blown out by the Seahawks last week in Seattle, crisscrossed the country this week and, at least on paper, should have been exhausted.
But Jets quarterback Sam Darnold shook off early jitters, completing 22 of 31 passes for 207 yards and one touchdown, and led the Jets on three drives of 10 or more plays to use big chunks of the clock and keep the Rams’ offense off the field.
“It means the world to us to come in here, back-to-back West Coast trips, we weren’t able to stay on the West Coast because of Covid,” Darnold said after the game. “We did our jobs this week.”
They also have fallen behind in the race for the top pick in next year’s draft, something that will leave their win-starved fans with mixed feelings. The Jacksonville Jaguars, who lost to the Ravens on Sunday and are also 1-13, hold the tiebreaker in the draft over the Jets if they end the season with the same record.
Other winless teams won their first game later in the season, most recently the 2016 Cleveland Browns, who notched their first (and only) win in their 15th game.
The Jets have had scrapes with victory recently. Two weeks ago, they lost to the Las Vegas Raiders on the second-to-last play of the game. But on Sunday, they played not like a team tanking to get the first pick in next year’s draft — as some desperate Jets fans were banking on — but like a young team that finally didn’t hurt itself.
The Jets were 7 of 17 on third downs, running back Frank Gore ran the ball 23 times for 59 yards and one score, and wide receiver Jamison Crowder caught six passes for 66 yards. The Jets’ defense held Rams quarterback Jared Goff to 209 yards passing and intercepted him once.
On the final drive of the game, with the Rams out of timeouts, Darnold withstood a fierce pass rush and completed a 6-yard pass to Gore for a first down. After the two-minute warning, the Jets did something they haven’t done since last season: The offense lined up in the victory formation and Darnold took a knee three times to run out the clock and seal the win.