Yes, it’s one game. No one is crowning the Jets as a team that can go 16-0. No one is awarding Super Bowl rings for this team. The Same Ol’ Jets stigma is not going away anytime soon.
Yet there seemed to be something different about the Jets. They played with a swagger. They played like a team that did not let up, even when the game was out of reach in the third quarter. They played with such infectious enthusiasm. It was like they finally have an identity after not having it in the last five years.
There was so much to like in the Jets’ season-opening 48-17 victory over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Monday night. The Jets showed their fans and the national audience that this team is finally going in the right direction with Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan’s draft picks from three years ago are now playing well. Jets head coach Todd Bowles had them ready, and it showed when the Jets knew what the Lions were doing offensively as Jets linebacker Darron Lee mentioned they knew their opponent’s signals on offense.
The best way to say about this win is there may be hope for the Jets.
It starts with Jets quarterback Sam Darnold. On this night, the rookie showed the stage was not big for him. Sure, he threw his first interception in his first ever NFL pass attempt, but he did not let it bother him, as he responded nicely by engineering three first-half scoring drives and executing on several third-down conversions. He did a great job not force-feeding it by throwing deep for the sake of throwing deep. Instead, he threw many short passes when the receiver was open. When it was time to throw deep, he did it. He played smart overall.
There’s something to be said about a rookie galvanizing a team by having an effect on his teammates in sports. When Darnold engineered a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped by a 21-yard touchdown pass to Quincy Enunwa to give the Jets a 24-17 lead in the third quarter, the Jets responded by scoring 31 points in that quarter that sealed the win for them. The Jets defense contributed to two touchdowns in that quarter when Lee had a 36-yard interception return (his first career interception), giving the Jets a 31-17 lead and when he intercepted a Matthew Stafford pass to Luke Willson that set the Jets in Lions’ territory and put Jets kicker Jason Myers in a position to kick the field goal to make it a 41-17 lead. The special teams contributed to another Jets touchdown when Andre Roberts scored on a 78-yard punt return, extending the Jets’ lead to 38-17.
It’s what a great quarterback does. He leads by throwing a touchdown pass after the opposing team tied the game, and everything comes together. That was the Jets rookie quarterback’s impact in the Jets season opener. Overall, he finished 16-of-21 for 198 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and a quarterback rating of 116.8. Call this one a great impression.
The Jets expect this from Darnold the day they drafted him. So far, that vision was fulfilled for one game. That was the encouraging part of this Jets’ win. It’s been too long since the Jets had a quarterback that is a difference-maker in a game. They likely may have found a quarterback that could be the difference between winning and losing if one game was the be-all end-all.
Maybe that’s why it may not only be his coming out party, but it may start a whole new beginning for a troubled franchise that can’t get out of its way.
Maccagnan’s draft picks may finally get it together based on this game. 2015 draft pick Leonard Williams had two hits on Stafford, and the Lions quarterback was spending most of the time avoiding the Jets defensive end. Lee, 2016 draft pick, had six tackles and two picks, one which he returned for a touchdown and another that set Myers to kick a field goal. Last year’s draft pick Jamal Adams had his first career interception. 2016 draft pick Jordan Jenkins had his hits on the Lions quarterback.
As much as it is important for Darnold to make an impact as quickly as possible, it is that much important that Williams, Lee and Adams fulfill their star potential this season. Most of Maccagnan’s draft picks have been misses, so he needs more than just Darnold to finally come together. If his draft picks finally come together, the Jets may finally build a foundation.
Bowles has often talked about defense being the Jets’ identity. Maybe that time has come with the way the Jets were ballhawking in their season opener. The Jets secondary gave meaning to their nickname “New Jack City” by having five interceptions. Their young cornerbacks may finally be making a difference.
The Jets did not make too much out of this win. They expected to win the game, which is a change from hoping they win their games in the last few years. That could be another reason why things may be turning the corner.
Jets fans have every right to get excited about what they saw, even if it’s one game. It’s been too long since they saw a complete performance from their team.
Monday night could be a start of something special once and for all for Gang Green.
After the last nondescript years, call this progress.