FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — The kid has a sense of humor, too.
Sam Darnold kept a straight face for a split-second as he answered a question about what he could’ve done differently on his first pass in the New York Jets’ season opener in Detroit.
You know, the one that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown before many fans were even settled into their seats Monday night.
“Yeah, I mean, not throw it,” the rookie quarterback deadpanned Wednesday before breaking into a full grin. “That’s the easy answer.”
Darnold went on to explain how he could have kept rolling to his right and either thrown the ball away or eventually found an open receiver once he noticed Lions safety Quandre Diggs sitting back in the secondary, ready to pick him off.
It was an early learning moment in the Jets’ 48-17 rout , and a mistake from which he was able to bounce back.
“I thought, obviously, I could clean things up here and there,” Darnold said. “After I put the first play behind me, I thought I played really well.”
Darnold finished 16 of 21 for 198 yards and touchdowns to Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa, checking off a list of personal firsts — first game, first start, first TD, first INT, first victory — in the NFL.
“To get my first win under my belt, that’s a really good feeling, more than anything,” he said. “Just to be able to win a game in the NFL and know I can do it, even though I did know that I could do it. It’s just a nice feeling to actually go out there and execute with my teammates, especially the way that we did.
“But, yeah, moving forward, I’m confident in myself and confident in my teammates, as we all are in each other.”
During the few days since Darnold’s debut, both coach Todd Bowles and team chairman/CEO Christopher Johnson have referred to the 21-year-old quarterback as “an old soul.”
They have praised his even-keeled approach and exceptional work ethic, the likes of which are rare for rookies at this point in their careers.
One game in, the No. 3 overall draft pick out of USC is getting rave reviews from fans and national media, too. With a terrific prime-time performance, the Jets quarterback is already achieving celebrity status.
And through it all, Darnold remains unfazed.
“You know, just from being at SC, I’m used to some attention,” he said. “I know leading up to my last year at SC, it was kind of hectic, in terms of Heisman (Trophy) talk and all that kind of stuff, but, you know, I’m pretty used to that.
“But, it’s different now, being in the NFL and all of these expectations and everything. It’s different, but at the same time I’m just going to continue to be myself.
“I’ve been myself my entire career — high school, college, now the NFL — and I don’t see myself changing any time soon.”
That’s precisely what made scouts so fond of Darnold, on top of his physical talents. The fact he maintains a cool about him in the face of pressure is extremely unique.
Now, here in New York, Darnold is shouldering the burden of trying to help deliver a frustrated franchise a Super Bowl someday.
It has been 50 years since Joe Namath backed up his guarantee, and Darnold is the 31st quarterback to start a game since Broadway Joe’s final game for the team in 1976.
But maybe — just maybe — the Jets have their franchise quarterback?
“We won one game,” Bowles said. “I can tell you after about 100 more of them whether we have one or not. Right now, it’s a little early.”
No doubt about it. And, Darnold’s next big test comes Sunday in the Jets’ home opener against the AFC East-rival Miami Dolphins.
If he plays a good game and wins that one, too, the hype around Darnold will really start to build.
Not that anyone will need to worry about how the youngster will handle it all.
“I haven’t been paying much attention, but I’m sure people are talking about how good they expect our team to be in the next few years,” Darnold said.
“I’m just going to continue to focus on the next game. That’s all I can control and that’s what I’m going to do every single week.”
NOTES: WR Jermaine Kearse (abdomen) was a full participant in practice after missing the game at Detroit. “We’re going to evaluate him during the week, see how he does,” Bowles said. “He’s got to get his wind up and we have to see if there is any aftereffects.” … S Marcus Maye (foot), LB Josh Martin (concussion) and LB Neville Hewitt (knee) were the only players who didn’t practice. … LB Kevin Pierre-Louis was activated from the suspended list, and OL Ben Braden was waived to make room on the roster.
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