The Jets had an answer for everything Monday night, and a resounding one at that.
How would Sam Darnold respond in his first NFL game? How would he react after throwing a pick-6 on his first NFL pass? Would the offensive line protect Darnold enough? Would the defense make enough plays against Matthew Stafford? How would Darnold and the Jets handle a close game?
The Jets’ response was a 48-17 smashing of the Lions at Ford Field. It’s only one game, but the most encouraging sign was how Darnold and the Jets handled adversity.
Darnold bounced back after the ill-advised pass across the field that spotted the Lions a seven-point lead. The youngest Week 1 starting quarterback since the 1970 merger finished 16-for-21 for 198 yards and two touchdowns in his debut. And the Jets showed resiliency after blowing a 10-point cushion. Last year, they might have crumbled. "Might" probably isn’t strong enough. They probably would have crumbled. But they scored 31 unanswered points Monday night and dismantled the Lions.
“It’s a new era, a new team, a new swagger,” second-year safety Jamal Adams said. “We’re excited.”
The Jets had major difficulties finishing games last season. They lost five games by seven points or fewer and were outscored by 72 in the fourth quarter.
That shortcoming was talked about often by the players during training camp and the preseason. It was stressed by the coaching staff and worked on throughout the summer. Then the Jets were faced with that situation again Monday night in Detroit.
Todd Bowles said Darnold “didn’t flinch” and “didn’t even blink” after the interception to start his career. The same can be said for the Jets as a whole after Stafford connected with Golden Tate on a 24-yard touchdown to cap an easy drive and tie the score 17-17 early in the third quarter.
Six plays and less than four minutes later, the Jets answered back. Darnold hooked up with Quincy Enunwa for a 21-yard score. The Jets dismantled the Lions from there, leaving no doubt.
“We knew we would fight and we knew we would play and try to finish people off where we didn’t last year,” Bowles said. “For one game, we started out and we finished somebody off.”
Darnold didn’t have to do much after his touchdown. The defense and special teams made sure of it.
In a little more than a minute of game time, the Jets scored their first defensive touchdown in five years and their first special teams touchdown in six. Inside linebacker Darron Lee, who had two of the Jets’ five picks, returned one for a 36-yard score. Returner Andre Roberts took a punt back 78 yards for a touchdown to make it 38-17, and the rout was on.
But things may not have turned out that way had Darnold not led that 75-yard drive that put the Jets up for good.
“They fought back, which was great,” Bowles said. “They came back and fought, and I’m proud of them.”
The Jets will return to practice Wednesday and begin preparing for their home opener against the Dolphins in a short week.
Their performance against the Lions should lead to a more raucous and energetic crowd at MetLife Stadium. It also may have raised outside expectations that the Jets can end their seven-year playoff drought this season. But Bowles said it did nothing to change how the Jets feel about themselves.
“Our expectations were like that before the game, it doesn’t change anything,” he said. “We had high expectations for ourselves to begin with. That game changes nothing for us. It’s one game. We got 15 more to go. We’re going to try to win them different ways. Every week won’t be the same. Our expectations haven’t changed.”