USC star Sam Darnold made his highly-anticipated NFL debut on Monday Night Football earlier this week. The New York Jets selected him third overall in hopes of finally ending the franchise’s quarterback curse. However, his NFL career started off in the most Sam Darnold way possible: a pick-6.
Sam Darnold's first career NFL pass is a pick-6!
(📍 ESPN, 7:10pm ET)pic.twitter.com/MBK8gJaQec
— ESPN (@espn) September 10, 2018
A more fitting way for the rookie to start off his career could not have been scripted. Darnold had a turnover issue in college, mainly during his last year at USC. At that time, he gifted the opposition the ball 22 times (13 interceptions and nine fumbles) in just 14 games. For a rookie receiver playing in his first ever game, a pick-6 was the worst way to start off his career.
“Thanks for bringing that up, really appreciate that,” he said, smiling, after being asked about his pick-6 by sideline reporter Laura Rutledge postgame. “But after that, I put it behind me,” he said. “The crowd got really loud after that pick, and it was just, ‘Oh, shoot,’ and then I was like, ‘OK, here we go. Can’t get much worse than that.'”
Darnold admitted to being nervous on the first snap, which is understandable. After that, however, the test got even harder. Arguably, recovering from the pick-6 was Darnold’s real test. It’s fair to say that he passed with flying colors. Sam Darnold completed 16 of 21 passes for two touchdowns and one interception, coming out to a passer rating of 116.8. After the first throw, the 21-year-old completed 16 of his next 20 passes and two touchdowns for a 141.3 passer rating.
That is what makes his night so impressive. The poise which Darnold displayed was remarkable. He did not crumble under the pressure, and he did not let the mistake affect his play. He fought back and displayed some short-term memory.
“He didn’t flinch. He didn’t even blink,” coach Todd Bowles said of Darnold’s early mistake. “I could sit here and tell you we planned it to get the jitters out, but we didn’t.”
One of Darnold’s gifts is his ability to control his emotions. He doesn’t get too high on a big play, and nor does he get too down on himself for a terrible mistake.
When speaking about Darnold’s personality on Tuesday, the Jets’ head coach stated:
“He’s the same guy every day. I think that’s important at the quarterback position for you to be the same guy every day whether it’s good or bad.”
To Darnold’s credit, the team didn’t resort to making him dink-and-dunk. The rookie got out, made plays, and flung it. He averaged over 12 yards-per-completion and over nine yards-per-attempt, including a 41-yard bullet dime for his first-ever NFL touchdown pass.
Sam Darnold's first career touchdown: a 41-yarder for No. 14
— SB Nation (@SBNation) September 11, 2018
Again, Darnold did this all at the age of only 21 years and 97 days, making him the youngest quarterback to start Week 1.
His team stepped up to help him, however, which fans should not forget. The team’s defense had five interceptions, and the special teams unit demonstrated an impressive showing. To top it all off, the Jets were playing the Detroit Lions. The Lions, under rookie head coach Matt Patricia, looked like a mess. Many fans were surprised to see a team that went 9-7 last season playing this badly. The Lions’ veteran quarterback Matt Stafford, who was once the number one overall pick of his respective draft as well as the highest paid quarterback ever, looked much more like a rookie than did Darnold.
Yes, this was just one game. However, the Jets seem to be surrounded by a different aura. The team has always been considered to be the “unwanted step-child franchise” in New York when compared to the Giants.
However, the team now has a good coaching staff in place under Todd Bowles. Bowles will most likely not receive the respect he deserves because he has back-to-back 5-11 seasons after going 10-6 in his first ever season as a head coach. Simply put, however, the Jets never gave Bowles much talent to work with. The 5-11 record last year exceeded expectations, in fact. In the losses, the team was very competitive. Both of these facts demonstrate just how down people were on the Jets heading into 2017.
However, Sam Darnold may be the turning point for both Bowles’ career and the Jets’ future. 2017 first round pick Jamal Adams tweeted recently about the change in feeling around the team.
The Culture has CHANGED!! I've been telling y'all… the Jets are DIFFERENT this year. This is just the beginning! pic.twitter.com/exXeJko1qX
— Jamal Adams (@TheAdamsEra) September 11, 2018
Adams didn’t specifically mention Darnold, but it’s very likely that he is a significant part of this culture shift. There is a reason that things have changed, and Darnold is coincidentally in the middle of it all. Correlation? Yes. The quarterback has a lot to do with the locker room culture because he is viewed as one of the team’s main leaders. Darnold’s teammates gravitate toward him because he is laid-back, he loves playing football, and he combines all of this with a blue-collar work ethic.
The rookie will have to face many more stringent tests. After Week One, however, it’s easy to see why people are so high on the former Trojan.
Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons