Detroit — Matthew Stafford took a helmet to the ribs, but Detroit Lions fans were the ones gutted during a nationally-televised demolition, courtesy of the New York Jets and rookie quarterback Sam Darnold.
The Jets came into Ford Field the underdog on Monday night, fell behind 7-0 on the first play of the game, before roaring back for a 48-17 triumph in Matt Patricia’s head coaching debut with the Lions.
"There’s not a lot to be happy about here as far as that’s concerned," Patricia said. "I think, in general, all of it just has to be better. Just start from the top and work our way down. I don’t think there’s anything you can say other than it’s all just execution and coaching and all that stuff has to be better from that standpoint."
The night started so promising for the Lions, as the defense that had been maligned for its listless preseason performances, capitalized on a rookie error by Darnold. Defensive back Quandre Diggs undercut a cross-field pass intended for running back Bilal Powell, returning it 37 yards for a touchdown and getting the home crowd rocking.
Later it would be boos rising to the rafter, over and over again. At least until the Jets faithful, taking advantage of the seats emptied by disgusted Lions fans, gathered close to midfield to chant taunts as the finals seconds ticked off the clock.
New York matched Detroit's early touchdown later in the first quarter. Following a 43-yard punt return by Andre Roberts, Darnold steered the offense down to the 6-yard line with a third-down completion to Quincy Enunwa. The rolling catch was challenged by Patricia, but upheld, setting up a 6-yard touchdown run by Isaiah Crowell.
As the Lions offense continued to sputter, the Jets took the lead early in the second quarter on a 35-yard field goal.
Sparked by the insertion of rookie running back Kerryon Johnson into the lineup, Detroit finally worked their away across midfield before stalling. A 54-yard Matt Prater field-goal attempt that would have tied the contest fell short after a high snap led to a low kick.
After trading punts, the Jets took advantage of good field position, taking three plays to extend their advantage to 17-7. On third-and-2, Darnold connected with wide receiver Robby Anderson on a 41-yard bomb down the left side, through the outstretched arms of Lions safety Tavon Wilson.
"Robby put his hand up and man, after that, I knew that once Robby puts his hand up that he knows that he has someone beat," Darnold said.
Darnold was sharp after the interception, completing 16 of his final 20 passes, finishing with 198 yards two scores and the interception.
"He didn’t flinch, he didn’t even blink," Jets coach Todd Bowles said. "Obviously, we got it out of the way and I can sit here and tell you that we planned that so he could get the jitters out, but we didn’t. He came back and nobody flinched on the sideline."
The Lions did roar back at one point, with a 21-yard field goal by Prater to end the first half and an 80-yard touchdown drive to open the third quarter. Matthew Stafford was sharp on the series, going 4-of-4 for 80 yards and a 24-yard touchdown to Golden Tate. That knotted the score at 17.
But the Jets responded with a six-play touchdown drive that kick-started a 31-point fourth quarter. Enunwa scored first, taking a short throw on a rub route and racing 21 yards into the end zone.
On the ensuing possession, Stafford looked to Theo Riddick on an angle route out of the backfield, one of Detroit’s bread-and-butter plays in recent years, only to see Jets linebacker Darren Lee step in front of the pass and return it 36 yards to the house.
Roberts, the former Lions return man, blew the game wide open after Detroit was forced to punt. He fielded the ball near the left sideline and somehow managed to tie-toe through multiple tackle attempts near the boundary for a 78-yard score, making it, 38-17.
Before the return, Stafford took a brutal shot. Attempting to escape pressure from a collapsing pocket, the quarterback was smashed by a pair of Jets linemen, taking a helmet to the sternum. He remained on the field for several minutes before being helped to the bench by the training staff.
Stafford made a surprising return to the game after Roberts’ touchdown, only to be picked by Lee again, on a full-extension grab deep across the middle of the field. It was the fourth interception of the game for Stafford, marking the fifth time in his career he’s thrown that many in a game.
Stafford finished 26-of-47 with 286 yards, one touchdown and the four interceptions. After the game, he shouldered the blame for the loss.
"I told those guys in there that I’ll take this one," Stafford said. "You know, hope I never have to say that again. I don’t want to do it. I’ll push myself as hard as I can to make sure I don’t have to. Totally prepared coming into the game, just didn’t make enough good decisions or throws."
The Jets were limited to a field goal after that turnover, pushing their lead to 41-17.
New York capped its third-quarter scoring barrage with a 62-yard Crowell touchdown run.
"Really, my O-line, they did a wonderful job," Crowell said when he asked what he saw. "They just opened up the hole and I just ran through it. Basically, I’m really speechless about it because it was just wide open. I couldn’t believe it."
Stafford was eventually removed from the game in the fourth quarter for backup Matt Cassel, who also threw an interception. The Jets mercifully took a knee in the red zone to end the game.
The Lions will look to get back on track quickly with a short week before flying out to San Francisco to battle the 0-1 49ers.
"We obviously didn’t play well tonight and we’ve got a lot of work in front of us," Patricia said.