It can’t get much worse
Stafford, Lions unravel in Patricia’s dreadful debut
DETROIT (AP) — The booing began early. The Detroit Lions scored on a touchdown on the game’s first snap, but it wasn’t long before the fans at Ford Field sensed trouble.
An anemic first quarter of offense set the tone. By halftime, Matthew Stafford and the Lions were trailing, and in the third quarter, they unraveled completely.
The 48-17 loss to the New York Jets on Monday night was a dreadful debut for new coach Matt Patricia and a nightmare for Stafford, who was intercepted four times in a total debacle for Detroit.
“There’s not a lot to be happy about,” Patricia said.
The Lions fired coach Jim Caldwell after going 9-7 last season. The hope was Patricia could come over from New England’s staff and lift Detroit to the next level, but expectations in Motown seemed a bit tempered after an unimpressive preseason.
Monday’s rout brought little reason for optimism.
It actually began with a flourish for Detroit when Quandre Diggs intercepted rookie Sam Darnold on the first play from scrimmage and went 37 yards for a touchdown.
“You get a pick-6 on the first thing,” defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois said. “You’re on a high and you think everything else is going to go.”
There were boos from the crowd later in the quarter, though. It was tied at 7 after one, and the Lions had minus-2 yards of offense.
Down 17-10 at halftime, Detroit responded by going 75 yards in only four plays, tying the game on Stafford’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate.
Then the Jets reeled off 31 straight points before the end of the third.
Darnold found Quincy Enunwa for a 21-yard touchdown, quickly restoring New York’s seven-point lead. Then Darron Lee intercepted Stafford and went 36 yards for a touchdown. Just 67 seconds later, the Jets scored again on a 78-yard punt return by Andre Roberts. New York capped the quarter when Isaiah Crowell scored on a 62-yard run with 54 seconds left, making the score 48-17.
Lee said the Jets had a read on Detroit’s signals. Stafford went 27 of 46 for 286 yards, but it was his first four-interception game since 2013.
“I told those guys in there, ‘I’ll take this one,'” Stafford said. “Hope I never have to say that again.”
Matt Cassel came in at quarterback briefly in the third when Stafford was crunched between two defenders while attempting a pass. The crowd cheered when Cassel went in again with 8:15 left in the fourth, but he threw an interception shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, fans clad in green and white began a chorus of “J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets!” chants that echoed around an otherwise deflated stadium.
“I’m going to be most disappointed in myself. That’s where I always start,” Patricia said. “I’ve got to do a better job, and that’s always where I’m going to take it.”
There was almost nothing for the Lions to feel good about. Kenny Golladay had seven catches for 114 yards. The pass rush managed a couple early sacks after a listless preseason.
But the offense couldn’t build on Diggs’ early touchdown. Rookie Kerryon Johnson had only five carries, and Detroit ran for just 39 yards. Defensive end Ziggy Ansah left with a shoulder injury.
By the end, Jets fans had set up a celebration in the mostly abandoned sections behind New York’s sideline. There weren’t many Detroit fans left. At least the empty seats couldn’t boo.
Darnold showed he could recover from a careless mistake — a promising trait for any rookie quarterback.
What the New York Jets displayed on defense and special teams may have been even more encouraging for Darnold and his teammates.
Darnold threw an interception on the very first snap of his NFL career — and it was run back for a Detroit touchdown — but New York’s quarterback shouldn’t sweat that too much after the Jets stormed back and routed the Lions 48-17 on Monday night. Darnold threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns, and the Jets also scored on defense and special teams.
“We’re going to play better every game, that’s our goal,” wide receiver Quincy Enunwa said. “Obviously you can’t always make it happen, that’s going to be what we’re striving for. All three phases being successful, scoring on all three phases. When you can do that, you can be a pretty good team.”
Darnold earned the starting job after the Jets drafted him third overall in this year’s draft. His performance alone was cause for excitement Monday, but on this night, New York seemed to have a pretty solid cast around him as well. The Jets intercepted Matthew Stafford four times in a dismal debut for new Lions coach Matt Patricia.
“Give the Jets credit. They obviously are the ones that played well tonight,” Patricia said. “We have to do better, I have to coach better and we have to play better.”
New York scored 31 unanswered points in the final 9:36 of the third quarter after the Lions had tied it at 17. Darron Lee returned an interception for a touchdown, and Andre Roberts scored on a 78-yard punt return 67 seconds later.
What we learned from New York’s resounding win:
Darnold’s start to this game was pretty much the worst-case scenario. On the first play from scrimmage, his ill-advised throw sailed toward the left sideline and was picked off by Quandre Diggs, who returned it 37 yards for a 7-0 lead. That was Darnold’s only major error, however. He not only showed he could play well in prime time on the road, he also showed he could handle adversity.
The 21-year-old Darnold was the youngest quarterback to start a season opener since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. He was also the first quarterback to win his first start by 31 or more points since Tom Brady in 2001, per ESPN Stats & Info.
STUCK IN NEUTRAL
The Lions were unimpressive in the preseason, but it’s always tough to tell how much that really matters. This opener confirmed this team has issues. It was the most lopsided loss for Detroit in an opener since a 45-0 shellacking at Washington in 1991. (Of course, the Lions ended up making the NFC title game that season).
Detroit had scored at least 25 points in seven straight season openers, an NFL record. That streak is now over.
Perhaps most distressing, the Jets said they had a read on Stafford’s signals.
“We were calling out their plays as he was getting up to the line,” Lee said.
Detroit did a lot to try to shore up the running game this offseason, drafting Kerryon Johnson and adding LeGarrette Blount. It was enough of an overhaul that Ameer Abdullah was inactive for the opener.
The Lions ended up with 39 yards on 15 carries. Blount ran four times for minus-3 yards. Not a good sign.
“I know it sounds crazy, but we’re a lot better football team than we showed,” tackle Taylor Decker said. “I think we all know that and we’re all secure and comfortable with that. We’ll get better moving forward.”
Maybe it was just poor coverage by Detroit, but Roberts also had a 43-yard punt return in the first quarter in addition to his touchdown.
One victory doesn’t make the Jets a Super Bowl team, but the lopsided nature of this one is hard to ignore, and now New York has winnable games the next two weeks against Miami and at Cleveland.
Detroit is at San Francisco next weekend.
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Copyright 2018 The Associated Press.