FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Chris Herndon is not the superstitious type. So, he’s totally fine with talking about his three-game touchdown streak.
The New York Jets’ rookie tight end would rather chat about something else, though.
“I mean, it’s definitely nice to get into the end zone, but it feels a lot better when we’re winning,” Herndon said Friday. “So, it’s been fun these last three weeks, getting a few targets in the end zone and capitalizing on them, but ultimately I want us to win, so I don’t try to focus on the stats.”
Herndon is the third rookie in franchise history to catch a TD pass in three straight games, joining fellow tight end Thurlow Cooper (1960) and wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson (1996).
But, as he said, the end result hasn’t always been there. His first NFL touchdown came in the Jets’ 42-34 win over Indianapolis on Oct. 14, when he had a 32-yard grab.
Herndon had a 12-yard catch against Minnesota the following week to tie the game at 7 late in the first quarter. New York ended up losing 37-17.
Last week at Chicago, Herndon had a 16-yard TD reception in the Jets’ disappointing 24-10 loss.
He’ll try to make it four in a row — and, he hopes, with a victory — when New York travels to Miami, where Herndon played his college ball.
“I just think the offense slowed down for him,” coach Todd Bowles said. “I think from a mental standpoint, he’s playing faster because he can see everything that’s coming and his abilities are starting to take over without even thinking.”
Herndon was a fourth-round pick in April after a solid college career that was cut short last year by a knee injury. Some draft experts thought he could have been as high as a second-rounder if not for him being hurt.
“I’m definitely thankful to be here,” he said. “I don’t take any of this for granted because at this time last year, I was dealing with being injured. So, just being able to play in a professional league, that alone is an honor.
He tore the medial collateral ligament in his left knee before the Hurricanes were getting set to play in the ACC title game against Clemson. That was the end of his season and his career — but he refused to believe his NFL dreams would be over.
“I mean, not doubts,” he said, “but it wasn’t necessarily the best time to, you know, go down.”
With him slipping into the fourth round, the Jets took a chance on him even though he needed to continue rehabilitating his knee through the early part of the offseason.
Herndon’s role with the team was uncertain as New York had several tight ends on its roster during the spring. The 22-year-old native of Norcross, Georgia, also found himself in trouble with the law when he was arrested on June 2 for driving while intoxicated after flipping his car in New Jersey.
He was remorseful after the arrest , and thankful to the Jets for sticking by him during his legal issues. Herndon leaned on his faith while acknowledging that he had doubts about what was next for him.
“You kind of do, but that’s when I just started praying more and letting God handle all that,” he said. “Just controlling all I can at that point. I was strong with it and I’m still learning and growing with it each day.”
Herndon could potentially be disciplined by the NFL for next season, but he will let that play out. His mind right now is on getting better — on and off the field.
And, things are certainly looking up as far as his play.
Herndon has 12 catches — seven in the last three games — for 161 yards and the three TDs, which tie him with Robby Anderson for the team lead. He and Philadelphia’s Dallas Goedert have the most by a rookie tight end this season, and one more would break the Jets’ single-season mark for rookies at the position — currently shared with Rich Caster (1970), Mickey Shuler (1978) and Dustin Keller (2008).
And, Herndon has another eight games to do it.
“Yeah, I was actually kind of surprised when I heard that news,” he said. “I’m honestly just thankful.”
Herndon and rookie quarterback Sam Darnold were roommates for a stretch during training camp and developed a friendship off the field.
“Whenever we came home, either one of us had questions, especially me, because I’m the tight end, I just asked him,” Herndon said. “That kind of helped.”
Now, they’re creating a bond on the field that’s resulting in some big plays.
“First of all, he’s is a great route runner,” Darnold said. “But also, he’s a great run blocker, which helps in the pass game. It sets up play action and all that stuff. Whenever you have a versatile tight end like him, it always helps an offense.”