EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Sam Darnold returned — and so did the New York Jets’ hopes to turn around a season that was quickly unraveling without him.
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.
“I’m just really, really excited for the guys in this locker room,” Darnold said. “We were starving for a win.”
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 wild closing moments.
With Dallas marching down the field, officials called six straight penalties during one stretch including four on the Jets putting the Cowboys in scoring position.
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.
“To come out here and do it in the fashion we did and the defense getting a huge stop on the 2-point conversion,” Darnold said, “I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
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. Darnold was intercepted by Jourdan Lewis late in the third quarter after throwing 179 consecutive passes without being picked off, dating to Week 14 of last season at Buffalo.
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.
And, the Jets’ defense had one final stop in them.
“No one counted us to win that game,” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “Everyone bet on the Cowboys. They thought we were going to come in and get blown out.”
Prescott was 28 of 40 for 277 yards. Elliott finished with 105 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries.
“We’re putting ourselves behind,” Prescott said. “We’re putting our defense in a tough spot. We’re not playing complementary football. It’s simple as that. We’ve got to start faster. We’ve got to get points. We’ve got to get touchdowns and allow our defense to play from up.
“As long we have these slow starts, we’re going to struggle.”
Up next for the Cowboys, a game with division rivals Philadelphia Eagles.