A new year. A new starting quarterback. The Jets start off the season on Monday Night Football at Ford Field. Would New York win on primetime against the Detroit Lions?
With the the 3rd overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Jets selected Sam Darnold from USC. Although Josh McCown had been the starter in 2017, the organization felt that Darnold was the better quarterback after both played during the preseason games. There were concerns over whether a rookie should start over a veteran in Week 1, much less a primetime game on national television.
And so that is how at 21 years old, Sam became the youngest quarterback to start a season opener in NFL history.
On the first play of the game, the rookie faked the handoff to running back Bilal Powell from the Jets 25 yard line. With no receivers open on the play, the quarterback lobbed a pass toward the left sideline for a seemingly open Powell but safety Quandre Diggs stepped in front and intercepted the ball at New York’s 37 yard line. The defender returned it for a touchdown, putting Detroit up 7-0 in the 1st quarter. After the game, Darnold explained what went through his head on the turnover.
“I was licking my chops a little bit too much on that play. Right when I let it go I thought that I had him. Right when I released it I saw the defender and thought, ‘oh shoot.’ ”.
Sam would lead the offense on a five play drive later in the quarter, culminating on a 6 yard touchdown run from Isaiah Crowell. The Jets would tie the game at 7.
After cornerback Morris Claiborne intercepted Stafford on Detroit’s next possession, Darnold once again drove New York down the field, ending in a Jason Myers 35 yard field goal.
In the 2nd quarter, the rookie QB would find Robby Anderson for a 41 yard TD at the 2 minute warning, giving Gang Green a 10 point lead. They would go into halftime ahead 17-10.
Sam would answer Matthew’s touchdown to Golden Tate in the 3rd quarter. He threw a TD pass to Quincy Enunwa for a 24-17 edge over the Lions.
Darnold had two more drives that resulted in a Jason Myers field goal and a Crowell touchdown. The Jets blew out Detroit 48-17 on the road.
The rookie completed 16 of 21 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns with a 116.8 quarterback rating on Monday Night Football. After throwing the questionable pass for an interception on the first play of the game, Sam calmed down and made more consistent plays over the four quarters.
“He didn’t flinch. He didn’t even blink.” head coach Todd Bowles said.
Aided by 102 yards and two touchdowns from RB Crowell, 6 interceptions from an opportunistic defense and outstanding special teams, Gang Green helped Darnold overcome his early mistake in the 1st quarter in route to blowing out the Lions.