DETROIT – What did it all mean? Check back in December, if not Sunday at MetLife Stadium against the Dolphins. But for one surreal night, the Jets were convinced it meant they are a new team with a new attitude.
Much has been made of the personality overhaul general manager Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles have been working on for a couple of years, and the Jets believe it now is paying off. See Jets 48, Lions 17.
Two things about the game stood out to backup quarterback/unofficial assistant coach/team conscience Josh McCown, and both involved – who else? – rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.
First, newly elevated coordinator Jeremy Bates decided during the week he was going to mark Darnold’s first play in the NFL by having him roll right, then throw deep and across the field to running back Bilal Powell.
“We could easily have tiptoed into the game and handed the ball off,” McCown said before both he and Darnold got postgame hugs from Darnold’s mother, Chris. “But we have a high belief in Sam and what he can do.”
Second, after the Lions’ Quandre Diggs intercepted Darnold’s throw and ran it back 37 yards for a touchdown 20 seconds into the game, the sideline was so supportive Darnold could not recall everyone who spoke to him.
“As odd as it is to open a game with a pick six and to open a career with a pick six, it really did kind of bring us together,” McCown said, “and it really was kind of a rallying cry: Let’s go and show we have each other’s back.”
They did, in a rout in which the defense intercepted five passes, the maligned special teams dominated and Darnold made everyone believe, including hundreds of Jets fans who chanted both the quarterback’s name and the team’s.
Even the happiest visitor joining the “J-E-T-S” chorus in the lower bowl understood there are 15 games left in this regular season before anyone can think about 15 years left in Darnold’s term here.
But on and off the field, there is legitimate reason for hope. Bowles even smiled! When asked about Jets fans getting a little giddy this week he said, “Have at it.”
Darnold already has mastered the ancillary aspects of the job, including public speaking. When the first question posed to him concerned his first pass, he began with, “Thanks for bringing that up.” But he did so with a smile, not a snarl.
Darnold mostly seems to be enjoying the challenge rather than allowing himself to be intimidated by it. The same could be said of everyone in road white in Detroit.
“It’s why we were able to come back,” McCown said. “It’s the confidence and the belief in ourselves that we can overcome those things and so as a team we really did, and it was awesome.”
Responding to the early interception was not the only time the Jets had to prove their mettle. They did it again when the Lions opened the second half with a way-too-easy scoring drive that tied the game at 17. The Jets marched back down the field to retake the lead.
“That was huge,” Darnold said. “Again, I think that just speaks to the resiliency of our team . . . That was just exactly what we want as a team, exactly what we need, and we were rolling after that.”
Who knows, maybe if the Jets go somewhere special this season, and if Darnold’s career goes somewhere special, that first visit to the sideline on Monday night will be a story he tells when he is even older than McCown.
“A lot of people were saying things to me, like, ‘Bounce back,’” Darnold said. “Josh obviously said, ‘Hey, bounce back; you know what to do.’ But that’s just the kind of guys we have.
“It was really everyone coming up to me saying, ‘Ok, bro, settle in.’ I think we really came together as one tonight.”
This could get interesting, Jets fans. Settle in.