DETROIT — Sam Darnold was playing in his first NFL game, but it was Matthew Stafford who looked like a rookie rattled by a defense he previously hadn’t seen.
The Jets’ defense said they knew the plays that the Lions were running. Linebacker Darron Lee said they were calling them out as Stafford was getting up to the line of scrimmage, and it shook him. The Jets picked off four Stafford passes and five total in a 48-17 opening-night victory over the Lions.
“It just seemed like we were in his head as a defense,” Lee said. “That’s just preparation.”
The Jets said they studied and studied and studied some more. Lee said they knew the Lions’ formations and knew Stafford’s tendencies from the extra film work. Lee was responsible for two of the interceptions from Stafford, including one that he returned 36 yards for a touchdown. It was the Jets’ first defensive touchdown since 2013.
“Who’d I tell I was going to break that curse?” Lee said. “I told somebody I was going to be the one to score the first defensive touchdown. In the grand scheme of things, that play was a result of everybody being on the same page and communication. Hats off to everyone on the defense.”
Safety Jamal Adams said: “That was huge. We’ve talked about it. You don’t realize how important it is to score on defense and change the game. We had five turnovers. DLee took one to the house. There’s nothing like that. It changes the outcome.”
Lee said he knew exactly where to be on the play and he was positioned perfectly. He said he and Adams, who snagged his first career interception, called it out as soon as Stafford got to the line of scrimmage.
“I’ve been working that formation since July,” Lee said. "I called it. It was either going to be a snag route or a ram route. They ran a ram route. I was waiting on the inside. I was right there.”
Making this performance even more impressive was the Jets were without starting linebacker Josh Martin and safety Marcus Maye. But their defense, which didn’t have many playmakers last year, made plays. The Jets had just 11 interceptions all of last season.
Cornerback Mo Claiborne picked off Stafford first, leading to a Jason Myers field goal. Then Trumaine Johnson, in his Jets debut, intercepted the Lions quarterback. But Johnson lost the ball after taking a hard shot from Kenny Golladay. Johnson left the game and was tested for a concussion but he returned in the second half.
That’s when the fun started for the Jets. They scored 31 third-quarter points, and they were sparked by their defense. Lee got his two picks in the third. Adams’ came in the fourth off of Matt Cassel, and he was relieved he finally got his first.
“Words can’t describe it,” Adams said. “I’m just doing my job, what I’m supposed. It’s mixed emotions. I prayed on it. I was doubted all last year and throughout the offseason. It added fuel to the fire.”