In his debut as the lone hope for a hopeless franchise, Sam Darnold screwed up literally the first chance he had. At 21 years and 97 days old, Darnold is the youngest quarterback to start a season opener since 1950, and the first rookie to ever start the season opener of Monday Night Football. He immediately showed his youth.
With 14:53 on the clock, Darnold rolled out of the pocket all the way right and lofted a pass all the way left across the field. The ball was promptly intercepted and returned for a touchdown.
Sam Darnold's first career NFL pass is a pick-6!— ESPN (@espn) September 10, 2018
( ESPN, 7:10pm ET)pic.twitter.com/MBK8gJaQec
Everybody who is not a Jets fan and saw this play laughed. Everybody. Even the guys holding the down marker sticks laughed.
All of the Jets fans who allowed Darnold to ignite the hope that had lain dormant inside their souls immediately felt vulnerable. It’s happening again. They’re laughing at us.
Nobody is laughing now. From that point forward, the Jets [checks notes] dominated the Lions in every facet of the game in a 48-17 walloping led by Slammin’ Sammy Darnold, who looked every bit the precocious quarterback who was promised. Darnold outplayed Matthew Stafford so thoroughly it’s fair to ask whether they switched bodies in some sort of Freaky Friday sequel. Darnold finished with 16 completions on 21 attempts for 198 yards, two touchdowns, and the pick-six, which has already transformed from a source of humiliation to a source of pride for Jets fans.
Jets fans will be quick to tell you that Brett Favre also threw a pick-six on his first career throw. Darnold didn’t look quite as good as peak Favre, but he looked as promising as any Jets quarterback since, well, Favre. Darnold followed up the pick-six by settling down and leading a touchdown drive before the first quarter ended. Three drives later, Darnold threw his first career touchdown pass on a 41-yard rope that traveled nearly 50 yards in the air that looked, well, Favreian.
Darnold threw sharp passes for first downs, looked calm under pressure, and most importantly, didn’t screw anything else up. For a fan base who has already seen one young USC quarterback flame out in a blaze of butt-fumble anti-glory, that is the biggest compliment possible.
Darnold was just one piece of the Jets’ well-earned victory. The team intercepted Stafford four times, including a pick-six that was the team’s first defensive score since 2013 (!). The Jets rushed for 169 yards on 36 carries; on special teams, the Jets punt return team—which had the fourth fewest punt-return yards last year—returned punts for 16, 43, and 78 yards, the last of which went for a touchdown. It was the most complete team performance New York has had since it went to the AFC championship in 2010.
But it was Darnold who was the story of the game. Jets fans have been looking for a good quarterback since … well, they’ve never had a good quarterback. After a short detour to rock bottom, it seems like they finally do.