Rookie Sam Darnold with be under center Monday night when the Jets visit the Lions, who will play their first game under new head coach Matt Patricia.
Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft out of USC, beat out incumbent Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater for the starting job in the preseason.
New York coach Todd Bowles waited until Monday to anoint Darnold as the starter but said the rookie earned the job.
“Sam had a good preseason. We weren’t holding him back, but we weren’t rushing him at the same time,” said Bowles. “He still has some things to learn, but his poise in the pocket and the way he grasped the offense coming in right away … he gives us a very good chance to win.”
Darnold, who will become the youngest Week 1 starting quarterback in NFL history (21 years, 97 days), completed 29 of 45 passes for 244 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the preseason.
“I’ve had a ton of fun,” said Darnold. “I keep saying it but getting paid to play a sport that I love and not having to go to class is pretty cool, too. It’s fun to be able to play this sport for a living and play with some really cool dudes.”
Darnold will not have an easy task in turning around a franchise that has posted consecutive 5-11 records the past two seasons. It doesn’t help that the Jets play three of their first four games away from home.
“We’re gonna go play Detroit with 52 other guys,” Bowles noted. “It’s not just him.”
Patricia replaced Jim Caldwell, who was fired in January after going 36-28 in four seasons, including 9-7 in 2017.
The former defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, Patricia brings a winning pedigree to Detroit. He also knows how to beat the Jets, winning 10 of the last 12 meetings while running New England’s defense and holding New York to 17 points or fewer in the last four meetings.
Patricia is not putting too much stock in those results given the fact that the Jets have a new offensive scheme with Darnold at the controls.
“Those quarterbacks that come out of college, you try to do, just as a coach, as you’re going through the draft process, you’re going to look at those guys coming out of school and really try to do a good job with your due diligence on them anyways,” Patricia said. “You try to carry that over to what you see on tape through the preseason. So, it’s a big challenge, (they have) a new offensive coordinator and maybe a couple different things scheme-wise that they’re going to do with the hiring of new coaches.
“So, we’ll see it first-hand before we really get a taste of what it looks like because the film, I don’t think is really going to show us anything.”
Darnold will lean on a running game headed by Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell. Crowell started all 16 games for the Cleveland Browns the past two seasons and provides a physical presence while Powell is among the league’s best change-of-pace backs.
Robby Anderson leads a wide receiving corps that includes Jermaine Kearse, Terrelle Pryor and Quincy Enunwa. Anderson had a breakout year last season with 941 yards and seven touchdowns).
The Lions had the NFL’s worst ground game last season and again were reliant on the arm of Matt Stafford, who threw for 29 touchdowns and 4,446 yards last season — his seventh straight year with at least 4,200 yards passing.
While Stafford has two returning 1,000-yard wideouts in Golden Tate (92 receptions) and Marvin Jones (nine TDs), Detroit bolstered its rushing attack by signing sledgehammer back LeGarrette Blount and drafting rookie Kerryon Johnson in the second round.
Blount rushed for an NFL-best 18 touchdowns in 2016, while Johnson put up huge numbers at Auburn last year, leading the Southeastern Conference in rushing with 1,391 yards and scoring 18 touchdowns despite missing two games. Theo Riddick is one of the league’s best third-down backs with 186 catches over the past three seasons.
Darnold will need to be wary of a welcome-to-the-NFL moment courtesy of Detroit defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who registered 12.0 of his 44 career sacks last season.