EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)Le’Veon Bell’s huge smile said it all.
The New York Jets are getting quarterback Sam Darnold back under center this week, and the star running back was thrilled.
Just like everyone who coaches, plays or roots for the struggling team. But, especially Bell.
”Him getting back in the huddle and him just calling plays in practice, just hearing his voice and getting that normal cadence that everybody’s normally used to hearing,” Bell said, ”it’s like, Oh yeah, Sam’s back. We ready.’
”Ain’t nobody more excited than me. Not the coaches, not the fans – nobody. I’m ready for him to be back.”
Darnold will make his first start since the season opener when he takes the field Sunday at home against the Dallas Cowboys. The second-year quarterback missed the last three games while recovering from a bout with mononucleosis.
The Jets’ offense has managed very little in Darnold’s absence, especially in the last two games when New York combined for just 233 yards with Luke Falk – a former practice squad QB – starting those contests.
Bell has been an early-season workhorse for the Jets with 206 yards rushing on 71 carries and a team-leading 27 catches for 166 yards and q TD. But he’s averaging just 2.9 yards per rush.
”Any time your starting quarterback comes back, guys are going to be excited,” coach Adam Gase said. ”The good thing is, the way he looks at it is, he wants to come in and do his job. I don’t think guys are looking at is, now that he’s back, all will be all right. They know we have a lot to clean up.”
The Jets (0-4) will try to get that done against Dak Prescott and the top-ranked offense of the Cowboys (3-2), who have lost two straight since three consecutive wins to open the season.
Prescott is facing the Jets for the first time in his career, and he’s coming off a game against Green Bay in which he passed for a career-best 463 yards. But he also matched his career high by tossing three interceptions in the 34-24 loss and has at least one pick in four straight games – the longest streak in his three-plus seasons in the NFL.
None of that particularly concerns coach Jason Garrett.
”He’s proven to be a very good decision maker over the course of his career,” Garrett said. ”Sometimes you can kind of put all those things and make a big generalization about something, (but) it’s important to go back and look at what happened to each of those plays. He’s certainly made a lot of little plays for us and a lot of big plays for us in the passing game over the first five weeks.”
Here are some other things to know about the Cowboys’ showdown with the Jets:
Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has the fewest carries (85) and yards rushing (386) through five games in the two-time rushing champion’s four-year career.
The biggest reasons are the team’s inability to run the ball against New Orleans and a 31-3 deficit that forced Dallas to throw against Green Bay.
”I just think it’s how the season has unfolded,” said Elliott, who missed the entire preseason in a holdout but was off to a strong start through three games. ”I’m not really concerned at all. We’re still the same offense.”
The Jets are off to their worst start in 16 years, matching the 2003 team under Herman Edwards that also opened 0-4.
That squad, though, was sandwiched by teams that made the postseason. New York will be hard-pressed to make a playoff push this year with another loss, which would be its first 0-5 start since the 1-15 season under Rich Kotite in 1996.
”There’s been some players that have been out and this is just not the time to point fingers at anybody or any position group on the field,” defensive lineman Leonard Williams said. ”This is a time to fight for one another and lean on one another.”
BIG D’S SHAKY RUN D
The Cowboys have allowed two straight opponents to rush for at least 100 yards. It has been two years since three straight teams have reached triple digits on the ground against them.
While the numbers aren’t noticeably bad, Dallas let the Saints and Packers control the pace with their running backs. After finishing in the top 10 in run defense four of the past five seasons, the Cowboys are 13th right now.
”First off, we’ve got to stop the run,” defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said. ”It ain’t rocket science. We gave them the upper hand. We beat ourselves. That’s it and it’s time to move on.”
Williams is still looking for his first sack this season for the Jets.
The No. 6 overall pick in the 2015 draft made the Pro Bowl his second season, but hasn’t yet had the breakout year many expected. He has 17 career sacks, but just two in his last 15 games. The man nicknamed ”Big Cat” does lead the Jets with five quarterback hits this season.
”I think Leonard’s doing a good job,” Gase said. ”For me, it’s what we’re asking him to do, how he pushes the pocket. He gets double-teamed almost every snap, it feels like. Every time I’m watching him, he’s got four hands on him.”
WHAT’S THE LINE?
The Cowboys are hopeful both tackles will be available after six-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith missed the game against Green Bay with a sprained ankle and right tackle La’el Collins was sidelined in the second half by a knee injury.
Cameron Fleming struggled early as Smith’s replacement, and Prescott felt some pressure because of it. Rookie Brandon Knight was solid filling in for Collins.
AP Pro Football Writer Schuyler Dixon contributed.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL