NEW YORK — Yes, that really happened. Sam Darnold sparkled in his NFL debut — after a disastrous first throw, of course — and the New York Jets dominated on offense, defense and special teams for a stunningly complete 48-17 victory over Detroit in their season opener Monday night. And, just like that, hopes have been raised just one week into the season. Well, everywhere outside the Jets’ facility, that is.
“Our expectations were like that before the game,” coach Todd Bowles said Tuesday. “So, it doesn’t change any. We had high expectations to begin with. That game changes nothing for us. It was just one game. We’ve got 15 more to go. We’re going to try to win them different ways. Obviously, every week won’t be the same, but our expectations haven’t changed.”
Just a few days before the game, Bowles made the matter-of-fact statement that he’s not here to collect a check or go 8-8, which would be a solid improvement on the 5-11 marks the Jets have had the past two years. He said he’s here to try to lead this franchise to a Super Bowl. Sure, that seems like a stretch right now, but his players might be right there with him on that gameplan. They saw what they can accomplish when everything is clicking and what they can be if they can come close to replicating what went on in Detroit.
“I know what we’re capable of doing and even that wasn’t our best game,” wide receiver Quincy Enunwa said after the win. “So, I think that going forward we’re going to go ahead and fix the corrections and we’re going to play better every game, that’s our goal.”
Next up is the home opener against AFC East-rival Miami, and a chance to open the season 2-0 for the first time since Bowles’ first year as coach in 2015. New York will have a short week after that with a Thursday night game at Cleveland. Three games in 11 games — with some fans on social media and sports radio already thinking about the Jets opening 3-0 since Rex Ryan’s first season as coach in 2009.
“The Culture has CHANGED!!” safety Jamal Adams tweeted shortly after the win . “I’ve been telling y’all... the Jets are DIFFERENT this year. This is just the beginning!” Both Adams, who had the first interception of his career, and linebacker Darron Lee, who picked off his first two passes, said they knew what the Lions were doing on just about every play as New York finished with five interceptions of Matthew Stafford. Bowles said Tuesday that it was simply a product of preparation.
“No, we didn’t know any audibles,” the coach said. “We didn’t know any plays. I think those guys did a good job of following the assignments that the coaches taught them. And they were anticipating certain things. They have certain formations and they were in the right position and good position to make those types of plays.”
Either way, it certainly worked. It helped that Darnold bounced back from a brutal beginning in which the first throw of his NFL career was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Quandre Diggs. Rather than get rattled, the youngest quarterback to start a season opener in the Super Bowl era played with the poise of a veteran. The 21-year-old Darnold finished 16 of 21 for 198 yards and touchdowns to Robby Anderson and Enunwa.
“I thought he played well after the first play,” Bowles said. “He did some good things. We had some problems with the headset, so we had to call timeout a few times, but that was no fault of his.”
We just had some headset issues where they weren’t working where he could hear the play, but I thought he handled himself well.”
The coaches and players have raved about Darnold’s maturity and football smarts from the day he started practicing with them in May after being the No. 3 overall pick in the draft.
Those very attributes were on display in front of a prime-time audience on Monday night.
“He’s the same guy every day,” Bowles said of Darnold. “I think that’s important at the quarterback position for you to be the same guy. You know what you’re getting out of the guy and you trust that type of person when you’re the same guy every day, and that’s really been the most impressive thing.”
Bowles has both played and coached in the NFL for the better part of the past 30 years and come across lots of young players during that time.
The coach senses something simply different about Darnold because of that even-keeled focus already.
“It’s great to see,” Bowles said. “It’s rare more nowadays. It was a little more common back then (when Bowles played) for whatever reason, but it’s a little more rare than what I’ve been around and it’s exciting to see because he’s got an old soul. He’s young in age but understands the game very well. He works at it the right way.”
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