DETROIT — Sam Darnold showed he could recover from a careless mistake — a promising trait for any rookie quarterback.
What the New York Jets displayed on defense and special teams may have been even more encouraging for Darnold and his teammates.
Darnold threw an interception on the very first snap of his NFL career — and it was run back for a Detroit touchdown — but New York's quarterback shouldn't sweat that too much after the Jets stormed back and routed the Lions 48-17 on Monday night. Darnold threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns, and the Jets also scored on defense and special teams.
"We're going to play better every game, that's our goal," wide receiver Quincy Enunwa said. "Obviously you can't always make it happen, that's going to be what we're striving for. All three phases being successful, scoring on all three phases. When you can do that, you can be a pretty good team."
Darnold earned the starting job after the Jets drafted him third overall in this year's draft. His performance alone was cause for excitement Monday, but on this night, New York seemed to have a pretty solid cast around him as well. The Jets intercepted Matthew Stafford four times in a dismal debut for new Lions coach Matt Patricia.
"Give the Jets credit. They obviously are the ones that played well tonight," Patricia said. "We have to do better, I have to coach better and we have to play better."
New York scored 31 unanswered points in the final 9:36 of the third quarter after the Lions had tied it at 17. Darron Lee returned an interception for a touchdown, and Andre Roberts scored on a 78-yard punt return 67 seconds later.
What we learned from New York's resounding win:
Darnold's start to this game was pretty much the worst-case scenario. On the first play from scrimmage, his ill-advised throw sailed toward the left sideline and was picked off by Quandre Diggs, who returned it 37 yards for a 7-0 lead. That was Darnold's only major error, however. He not only showed he could play well in prime time on the road, he also showed he could handle adversity.
The 21-year-old Darnold was the youngest quarterback to start a season opener since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. He was also the first quarterback to win his first start by 31 or more points since Tom Brady in 2001, per ESPN Stats & Info.
STUCK IN NEUTRAL
The Lions were unimpressive in the preseason, but it's always tough to tell how much that really matters. This opener confirmed this team has issues. It was the most lopsided loss for Detroit in an opener since a 45-0 shellacking at Washington in 1991. (Of course, the Lions ended up making the NFC title game that season).
Detroit had scored at least 25 points in seven straight season openers, an NFL record. That streak is now over.
Perhaps most distressing, the Jets said they had a read on Stafford's signals.
"We were calling out their plays as he was getting up to the line," Lee said.
Detroit did a lot to try to shore up the running game this offseason, drafting Kerryon Johnson and adding LeGarrette Blount. It was enough of an overhaul that Ameer Abdullah was inactive for the opener.
The Lions ended up with 39 yards on 15 carries. Blount ran four times for minus-3 yards. Not a good sign.
"I know it sounds crazy, but we're a lot better football team than we showed," tackle Taylor Decker said. "I think we all know that and we're all secure and comfortable with that. We'll get better moving forward."
Maybe it was just poor coverage by Detroit, but Roberts also had a 43-yard punt return in the first quarter in addition to his touchdown.
One victory doesn't make the Jets a Super Bowl team, but the lopsided nature of this one is hard to ignore, and now New York has winnable games the next two weeks against Miami and at Cleveland.
Detroit is at San Francisco next weekend.