Jesse Pantuosco

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Dose: Darnold Shines in Debut

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


This likely won’t be remembered as one of my more interesting anecdotes, but here it is. Just before the start of Monday night’s Jets/Lions game, I went into a local pizzeria and ordered a calzone about the size of Derrick Henry (I’m big on leftovers, so that’s not a deal-breaker for me). As I was leaving, I crossed paths with a hopeful Jets fan wearing an old Wayne Chrebet jersey. We went our separate ways, but I can only imagine his reaction to Sam Darnold’s first-ever NFL pass about 10 minutes later.

 

Darnold’s career-opening pick-six, the result of a mix-up with running back Bilal Powell, gifted the Lions an early 7-0 lead. While not quite an all-timer (Mark Sanchez’s iconic butt fumble remains the high-water mark for Jets incompetence), Darnold’s early gaffe reminded us that despite his immense hype, the 21-year-old is just that—21 years old. Making his NFL debut in primetime against an underrated Lions secondary, mistakes like the one Darnold made on his first NFL passing attempt were bound to happen. Face-planting on the biggest stage isn’t a warning sign—it’s a rite of passage. The question is, how would he respond? Would the USC alum dig himself a bigger hole or come back guns blazing?

 

 

If you chose the latter, come collect your prize. Following his interception, Darnold completed an impressive 16-of-20 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns as the visiting Jets cruised to a surprisingly lopsided win. The rookie only attempted six passes after halftime as New York went into clock-killing mode, but even with an abbreviated workload, Darnold looked the part of a future franchise cornerstone. Just as he did during his standout preseason, the first-round quarterback impressed with his poise and accuracy.

 

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It’s much too early in the Sam Darnold Era to be drawing any major conclusions, but in Monday’s limited sample size, it was evident the third overall pick had a strong rapport with Quincy Enunwa, who nabbed six of his 10 targets for a team-high 63 yards and a touchdown. For Enunwa, Monday marked the 26-year-old’s first game action in over a year after sitting out the entire 2017 season following neck surgery. Enunwa wasn’t the first name off anyone’s tongue during last month’s draft binge, but now that we’ve seen what he can do, the former Nebraska Cornhusker may end up being a steal for owners who snatched him up in the later rounds. It’s easy to forget that Enunwa led the Jets in receiving yards during his last healthy season in 2016. In leagues where he’s available (which is most of them), Enunwa should be a popular waiver add this week.

 

Fantasy owners were counting on speedster Robby Anderson to be a major source of production this year and while that didn’t quite materialize in Monday’s opener, the Temple product salvaged the night somewhat by pulling in a 41-yard touchdown late in the first half. That concluded a tepid fantasy night for the third-year wideout, who was targeted just once over his 35 offensive snaps. Anderson has always been a feast-or-famine fantasy commodity, though last year he seemed to shed that label by drawing a team-high 114 targets. Monday’s win didn’t call for a pass-heavy game script, so perhaps Anderson’s quiet night was merely an outlier. Still, his target share will be something to keep an eye on going forward.

 

Darnold wasn’t the only newcomer with something to prove Monday at Ford Field. Detroit’s opening week game marked the debut of first-time head coach Matt Patricia, who joined the Lions this offseason following a 14-year run in Foxboro as an assistant under Bill Belichick. It was a disastrous opener for the Lions, who were outscored by a colossal 31-7 margin in the second half. Patricia’s loss continued a league-wide trend as all seven new head coaches (Patricia, Jon Gruden, Matt Nagy, Frank Reich, Pat Shurmur, Mike Vrabel and Steve Wilks) dropped their first game. Including last year’s Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia, Patricia defenses have yielded an embarrassing 89 points over the last two games.

 

The Lions struggled in all facets Monday night, but it was their offense that really disappointed. Matthew Stafford endured one of the worst games of his career, completing just 27-of-46 passes (58.7 percent) for 286 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions. Two of those picks were supplied by Jets linebacker Darron Lee including one returned for a 36-yard touchdown. Trumaine Johnson, the recipient of a jaw-dropping five-year, $72.5 million contract this offseason, also chipped in with an interception. Stafford’s performance may have been impacted by a knee injury he suffered during the first half, though the 30-year-old remained in the game until Matt Cassel came on for mop-up duty in the fourth quarter.

 

Getting roundly outplayed by the youngest starting quarterback in league history isn’t a good look for Stafford, but at least the veteran flashed excellent chemistry with Kenny Golladay, who absorbed seven-of-12 targets for a career-best 114 yards. Coming off an injury-plagued rookie campaign, Golladay could be ready to make a sophomore leap in 2018. Overall, Detroit finished the night with five turnovers, which might explain why the only fans left in attendance after three quarters were wearing jerseys stitched with green and white.

 

After averaging a league-worst 76.3 rushing yards per game in 2017, Detroit made sure to address its backfield need this offseason. Early-down hammer LeGarrette Blount and second-round rookie Kerryon Johnson were both brought in to shore up the Lions’ stagnant ground attack. That was the plan, at least. Blount and Johnson showed little in their Lions debuts, combining for an embarrassing 14 yards on nine carries (1.56 yards per attempt). Neither saw enough work to establish any real rhythm (a large deficit forced Detroit to abandon the run), though the Lions were certainly expecting more of their new running back tandem.

 

While the Lions’ running game spent much of the evening stuck in neutral, New York flourished on the ground, massacring Detroit for 169 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries. Both touchdowns were scored by free-agent signing Isaiah Crowell, who bulldozed his way to 102 yards on just 10 rushes in his Jets debut. Veteran Bilal Powell added another 65 yards (60 rushing, five receiving) on 13 touches. New York’s hot-hand backfield is sure to frustrate fantasy owners, though the Jets’ committee approach clearly paid dividends in Week 1.

 

Monday’s 48-17 defeat won’t be an easy one to shake off, but the Lions will have to do exactly that in preparation for Sunday’s game in San Francisco. The loser of that matchup will fall to 0-2, so expect both teams to play with a sense of urgency. Meanwhile the Jets will clash with Miami in Darnold’s home debut Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Maybe I’ll be done with my enormous calzone by then.

 

Quick Hits: The Rams took care of business in the second game of Monday night’s double dip, outclassing the Raiders in a 33-13 victory at the Oakland Coliseum. Todd Gurley spoiled Jon Gruden’s return to the Bay Area by delivering 147 yards (108 rushing, 39 receiving) and a touchdown on 23 touches. Brandin Cooks tacked on a team-high 87 receiving yards in his Rams debut while fellow newcomer Marcus Peters scored on a pick-six thrown by Derek Carr. Tight end Jared Cook accounted for 180 of Oakland’s 303 receiving yards in the loss … Packers coach Mike McCarthy isn’t sure of Aaron Rodgers’ availability for Week 2 against the Vikings. Rodgers injured his knee in Sunday’s opener but came back and led the Packers to a come-from-behind win over the visiting Bears … Doug Baldwin suffered a partial MCL tear in Sunday’s loss to Denver. No timetable has been given for his return. His likely absence will open up targets for Brandon Marshall and Tyler Lockett … Bills coach Sean McDermott would not commit to a starting quarterback for Week 2 against the Chargers. All signs point to Josh Allen getting the nod after the rookie came on in relief of Nathan Peterman in Sunday’s season-opening loss to Baltimore … Breshad Perriman worked out for the Eagles on Monday. The former Ravens wide receiver had workouts with the Bills and Jets last week but apparently didn’t show enough to land a contract … Free agent receiver Corey Coleman visited New England on Monday and will follow that up by working out for the Eagles on Tuesday. The former first-round pick has yet to resurface since failing to make the Bills’ roster out of training camp … The Patriots placed Jeremy Hill on injured reserve Monday following his ACL tear Sunday against Houston. With Hill done for the year, New England will move forward with Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel and James White at running back … Jaguars coach Doug Marrone downplayed the severity of Leonard Fournette’s hamstring injury, calling it just a “minor” setback. With Fournette hurting, T.J. Yeldon led the backfield with 51 yards on 14 carries Sunday in Jacksonville’s victory over the Giants … Titans coach Mike Vrabel said injured quarterback Marcus Mariota is still being evaluated. If the elbow injury keeps Mariota from playing in Week 2, Blaine Gabbert would draw the start against Houston … In addition to the dislocated ankle he suffered in Week 1, Delanie Walker also has ligament damage and will undergo season-ending surgery. It’s a huge loss for the Titans as Walker had led the team in receiving yards three of the last four seasons … Kenneth Dixon will miss time after injuring his knee in Sunday’s win over Buffalo. The 24-year-old has a history of knee injuries after missing all of last season with a torn meniscus. His absence will open up backup reps for Javorius Allen behind lead back Alex Collins in Baltimore … Texans coach Bill O’Brien expects Kevin Johnson to be out a while after suffering a concussion in Sunday’s loss to New England. Johnson was also concussed during the preseason … Seantrel Henderson will miss the remainder of 2018 after breaking his ankle in the Texans’ Week 1 loss to the Patriots. That was Henderson’s Houston debut after spending his previous four seasons with Buffalo … The Texans are hopeful Will Fuller will be ready for Week 2 against Tennessee. The third-year deep threat missed the opener with a hamstring injury … An MRI on Joe Haden’s injured hamstring revealed a Grade 1 strain. That clouds his status for the Steelers’ Week 2 game against Kansas City … Keanu Neal was placed on injured reserve Monday. The Falcons safety tore his ACL in Thursday night’s loss to Philadelphia … 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said Marquise Goodwin is dealing with a bruised thigh. That injury limited Goodwin to just 17 snaps in Sunday’s loss to Minnesota.



Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
Email :Jesse Pantuosco



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