Darnold recovers from 1st-play pick-6, helps Jets rout Lions
DETROIT (AP) — Sam Darnold rolled right and made a rookie move, lobbing a football across the field that was picked off and returned for a touchdown.
It might’ve been his only mistake all night.
Darnold made a stellar debut after throwing a pick-6 on his first NFL snap, and the New York Jets intercepted five passes and also scored on special teams in a 48-17 rout over the Detroit Lions on Monday night.
The 21-year-old Darnold became the youngest quarterback to start a season opener since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, and looked his age on the first play.
“Licking my chops a little bit too much, I think, on that play,” he said
Quandre Diggs intercepted his ill-advised pass and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown 20 seconds into the game.
“On that interception, I was pretty nervous,” Darnold said. “After that, I put it behind me.”
The former USC star, drafted No. 3 overall, shook off the nerves and finished 16 of 21 for 198 yards and two touchdowns . He is the first quarterback to win his first start by 31 or more points since Tom Brady in 2001, per ESPN Stats & Info.
“He didn’t flinch,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said. “He didn’t even blink.”
Darnold helped the Jets set a franchise record for points on the road, surpassing the 47 they scored in 1967 against the Boston Patriots.
He also outplayed 30-year-old Matthew Stafford.
Stafford threw four interceptions — one shy of his career high — and left the game briefly in the third quarter after being hit from the front and back by the swarming, hard-hitting Jets.
“We wanted to make sure we came out and made a statement in this game,” New York linebacker Darron Lee said.
Stafford was 27 of 46 for 286 yards and a TD pass to Golden Tate early in the third quarter to tie it at 17. He was mercifully taken out midway through the fourth quarter and replaced by Matt Cassel with Detroit down 31.
“Story of the game’s turnovers, you know?” he asked. “We had too many of them, I had too many of them.”
The Jets dominated in all phases.
They scored 31 straight in the third quarter to pull away, sending Detroit’s fans for the exits and setting off a jolly green party in the Motor City. It was the highest-scoring third quarter in team history and trailed only the 34-point second quarter the Brett Favre-led team scored in 2008 against Arizona.
New York scored on the ground and through the air, on defense and on a punt return by former Lion Andre Roberts. The Jets could’ve piled on even more in the final minutes but turned the ball over on downs after kneeling to take time off the clock. Darnold flipped the ball to a referee after the final kneel down, and the official gave it right back before shaking the rookie’s hand. Darnold was still holding the ball while talking briefly with Stafford on the field.
Detroit coach Matt Patricia, meanwhile, will want to forget his debut as an NFL head coach.
“We’ve got to coach this a lot better than what we did,” he said. “We’ve got to go out and execute a lot better on the field. It’s a team game, and it starts with me.”
New NFL head coaches dropped to 0-6 in Week 1, with Oakland’s Jon Gruden the group’s final hope for an opening victory in the Monday nightcap.
Late in the game, just before Cassel threw an interception, hundreds of New York fans chanted: “J-E-T-S, JETS! JETS! JETS!” A crew clad in green and white filed into seats in four sections along the New York sideline and appeared to outnumber Detroit fans who stuck around for the bitter end.
“That was awesome to be able to see them doing their thing,” Darnold said.
The Jets had played an NFL record 73 games, dating to 2013, without a defensive TD before Lee returned one of his two interceptions 36 yards for a score in the third. Trumaine Johnson, Morris Claiborne and Jamal Adams also picked off passes in a strong start for the Jets self-proclaimed “New Jack City” secondary.
Darnold joined Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston (2015) and Brett Favre (1991) as quarterbacks who had their first pass intercepted and returned for a score.
Jets: CB Johnson (head injury) and CB Buster Skrine (rib) returned to play after leaving the field with injuries. Johnson was evaluated after he intercepted a pass and fumbled after taking a hard hit from Detroit receiver Kenny Golladay.
Lions: DE Ezekiel Ansah, who has struggled to get and stay healthy, left the game with a shoulder after making four tackles, including a sack. OG T.J. Lang left the game with a back injury. CB Darius Slay returned to play after leaving the field to be evaluated for a concussion.
Jets: Host the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
Lions: Visit the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
Follow Larry Lage on Twitter at www.twitter.com/larrylage