Sam Darnold's debut began with the most Jet-like first pass in franchise history. After more than 40 years of waiting for a franchise quarterback, the first thing he does is throw a pick-six?
It's a good thing nobody in New York would ever overreact to one play!
Because after that, the kid was pretty good. And the Jets were even better.
The Darnold era got off to rousing start on Monday night in Detroit when the 21-year-old completed 16 of 21 passes for 198 yards, two touchdowns and that one interception in a shocking 48-17 rout of the Lions. OK, the actual start was terrible: A pick-six on his very first pass. But after that, it was all tremendous.
Granted, the first play was really bad. Darnold rolled to his right and then, unable to find a receiver or perhaps by design, looked back to his left and tried to float a pass across the field to running back Bilal Powell. It never got there and Quandre Diggs picked it off and returned it for a 37-yard touchdown.
But Darnold bounced right back with a solid drive on which he hit tight end Neal Sterling with a big third-down pass. And one drive later he was leading them on the first touchdown drive of his career. And it just kept getting better. He was showing great poise in the pocket, an ability to get out of trouble, and making great decisions even when he threw downfield.
It was really hard to nitpick with anything he did. And he obviously got incredible support. His offensive line was good. His receivers were reliable. And the defense and special teams ... well, we'll get to those below.
In all, Darnold's ability to bounce back from adversity and lead this Jets' offense was everything they could have expected when they drafted him third overall back in April. And now everyone knows why the Jets are so excited about their new quarterback - because they believe this only just the start.
Here are a few other notes and observations from the Jets' huge Opening Day win:
- Believe it or not, Darnold is in pretty good company among quarterbacks who have thrown a pick-six on their first NFL pass. It also happened to Tampa Bay's Jameis Winston in 2015, and to Brett Favre, who was then with the Atlanta Falcons back in 1991.
- It will be overshadowed by the Darnold excitement, but what a great performance by the Jets' defense against a Lions team loaded with weapons. Five interceptions -- a leaping catch by Morris Claiborne, a jump of a route by Trumaine Johnson, and an impressive read in the third quarter by LB Darron Lee to let one receiver go to jump in front of another and return it for a touchdown. Lee added another one, too. Safety Jamal Adams had one. The Jets' secondary is going to be the strength of this defense, and it didn't disappoint.
- Of all the things that were surprising about this game, nothing was more shocking than the performance of the Jets' special teams. A mess during the summer, they nearly stole the show. It was impressive enough that they got a 43-yard punt return by Andre Roberts, but then he added a 78-yard return for a touchdown, too? Who saw that coming?
- The Jets didn't get much of a pass rush in this game, but DE Henry Anderson, acquired from the Colts for a seventh-round pick back in April, had a few moments where he showed he might be able to help out. The front line did a nice job against the run, though. The Lions aren't a great running team by any means, and obviously they were playing from behind, but they only rushed for 39 yards on 15 carries.
- Isaiah Crowell is a very hard runner, which was evident many, many times, including on his 62-yard touchdown run and on his 6-yard touchdown run when he made an impressive stretch for the end zone at the end -- and somehow kept his knee off the ground. He made an even better run in the second quarter on a third-and-20, when he made a spinning, twisting 14-yard run to get the Jets in better position for a field goal. Crowell finished with 102 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries.
- It was nice to see Quincy Enunwa back and making some big third-down catches. He finished with six catches for 63 yards and a touchdown, and he took some big hits too, making it pretty clear he's all the way back from the neck injury that kept him out all last year. He also clearly became Darnold's favorite target early in the game.
- Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates only got into trouble when he tried to get too creative and cute. It happened on the first play of the game -- which either was designed for Darnold to throw back across the field, or at least gave him that option (either of which is a colossally bad idea for a 21-year-old rookie's first NFL play). And it happened on a third-and-1 in the second quarter when he called for an end around to WR Robby Anderson that predictably lost nine yards. Why not run straight ahead, which the Jets were doing successfully early in the game? And with Anderson, a straight-ahead runner, who was unlikely to turn the corner or make anyone miss? Dumb play all around.
- Anderson's catch on Darnold's 41-yard touchdown pass was terrific and showed some fantastic concentration. The defender caught up to him and had position. The ball snuck through and Anderson didn't even bobble it. It was a nice way to finish an otherwise quiet first half.
- Adams looks like he didn't miss a beat. He's incredibly active and seemingly around every play, and he made his impact felt early when he got deep into the backfield and hammered LeGarrette Blount for a seven-yard loss on the Lions' first series. And he recorded his first career interception in the fourth quarter.