Jets running back Isaiah Crowell runs for a touchdown during the third quarter against the Lions on Sept. 10, 2018, at Ford Field in Detroit.

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Lichtenstein: Darnold Wasn’t Only Newcomer To Shine In Jets' Season-Opening Victory

Crowell, Roberts Among Others Who Came Up Big Vs. Lions

Steve Lichtenstein
September 11, 2018 - 9:12 am
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Sam Darnold arrived in New York with about as much fanfare as any Jet since Joe Namath.

Guys like Andre Roberts, Henry Anderson, Isaiah Crowell and Jason Myers -- not so much.

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Without the less-heralded newcomers, however, the Jets wouldn’t have shocked host Detroit, 48-17, in Monday night’s season opener.

Darnold, the rookie quarterback drafted third overall after general manager Mike Maccagnan surrendered three second-round picks to Indianapolis to move up three slots, had a fine regular-season debut, shaking off a pick-six on his first play from scrimmage to accurately put balls where his playmakers could make things happen.

Wide receiver Robby Anderson had to slow down to get good position on an underthrown second-quarter pass deep down the left sideline and then outfought Lions safety Tavon Wilson for the ball for Darnold’s first career touchdown.  Early in the third quarter, Darnold hit wide receiver Quincy Enunwa in the flat about 2 yards off the line of scrimmage on a pick play. Enunwa turned upfield and dragged two Detroit defenders the last 4 yards into the end zone for a 21-yard score.

That was a huge drive for Darnold and the Jets, who had just seen their momentum from a statistically dominating first-half performance disappear after quarterback Matthew Stafford got the Lions even at 17-17 on their opening possession of the third quarter.

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However, many of the subsequent key plays that turned what had all the appearances of a nailbiter into a rout were made by newcomers other than Darnold.

On Detroit’s ensuing series, which started after the fifth of nine consecutive touchbacks by Myers, a kicker who was scooped up off the street during the preseason, Stafford faced a third-and-1 from his own 34-yard line. 

The Jets had hit Stafford some in the first half (not including when his own lineman banged into his knee), but the pass rush generally had been as poor as advertised to that point.  Anderson, a reserve defensive lineman signed during training camp after getting waived by the Colts, picked a great time to bull his way past Lions center Frank Ragnow, blasting Stafford right in the numbers as he threw across the middle. Jets linebacker Darron Lee moved over for an easy interception and then galloped into the end zone.

Detroit went three-and-out on its next drive and punted. Roberts, whom Maccagnan signed to a one-year, $1 million free agent contract in March and earlier broke returns for 43 and 16 yards, then tiptoed down the left sideline 78 yards for the Jets’ third touchdown in 2:36.

When running back Crowell, another offseason free-agent pickup, took a routine handoff 62 yards to paydirt for his second touchdown of the night in the final minute of the third quarter, it looked like the Lions just gave up.

The Jets scored 31 points in the stanza, their most in any quarter since 2008. They scored their first defensive return touchdown since 2013 and their first special teams return touchdown since 2012 (ruining one of my predictions), which was also the last time they did both in one game. And their 48 points were the most the franchise has ever tallied on the road.      

I know it’s hard to believe, but in reality, Darnold had very little to do with it after his 20-yard dart off a rollout to wide receiver Terrelle Pryor (another newcomer) set up the Enunwa catch-and-run that gave the Jets the lead for good.

Now, the rookie QB did exhibit many of the positive traits on Monday night that swayed coach Todd Bowles to make Darnold, 21, the youngest quarterback to ever start a season-opening game. His mobility to either side of the field while simultaneously keeping his eyes downfield for open lanes is advanced for any age. He did not let the poor decision, precipitated by a poor play call by new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, on the wheel-route interception across the field snowball.

And, maybe most importantly, the Jets were counting on him not to be overwhelmed by the moment. Playing his first game for an organization that had been desperately searching for a top-level quarterback since 1998.  In prime time on national TV and in front of a very hostile audience.

Darnold did not get spooked. No happy feet in the pocket, and no further forced throws. He just went through his progressions and took the underneath stuff the Lions gave. Sixteen-of-21 for 198 yards is by no means shabby.   

The city’s bright lights were going to shine on Darnold after Monday night no matter what.  That’s just the way things are  The headlines were written in advance for whether he was the hero, goat or, like he was in this game, one of many who played very well.

It would be a mistake, however, to ignore all the contributions from so many other difference-makers who were also new to New York.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.