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USC in the NFL: Sam Darnold breaks records in first NFL start

Sam Darnold bounces back from pick-six to show the New York Jets why he’s got the goods.

NFL: New York Jets at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Former USC quarterback Sam Darnold notched his first career start and his first career win with the New York Jets Monday night against the Detroit Lions.

If there is one thing Sam Darnold is perfect at, it is having a short term memory. For a rookie quarterback the ability to bounce back and put an errant throw or sack behind them is imperative to their success for the rest of the game.

Darnold’s very first pass attempt as the starting quarterback for the New York Jets was a pick-six. On a designed roll-out to the right side of the field, Darnold evaded pressure and then threw all the way across to the opposite side of the field, right to an open Lions defender.

The play was disastrous from the start, and it could have put a demoralizing cloud over the young rookie’s head, yet Darnold was unfazed.

“Obviously licking my chops a little bit too much on that play. It was one of those where right when I let it go I thought I had him, and then out of the corner of my eye right when I released it I saw the defender and just though oh shoot. And then he took it back obviously for a pick-six but after that you know, it is what it is. Put it behind you and play the game so that’s really what I did.”

On the following drive, Darnold led his team right down the field, picking up crucial first downs and staying poised after the worst possible start. The Jets tied it up after a touchdown run from running back Isaiah Crowell.

Darnold’s first career touchdown pass came on a 41-yard bomb to wide receiver Robby Anderson. Connecting on the deep had been a struggle for Darnold in training camp and preseason, though he showed when it matters most that he can be accurate.

The No. 3 pick in the NFL Draft went on to play as just that, going 16 of 21 for 198 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, and a passer rating of 116.8. For a rookie, Darnold was impressively accurate, recording a 76.2 completion percentage in his first start, on the road at that.

After the interception, Darnold looked like he had been running the Jets’ offense for years. On third down he would go through all his reads, keeping calm until he saw an open man to keep the chains moving.

The Jets’ offensive line did a wonderful job of protecting Darnold, he rarely had to showcase his mobility that has been heralded since his days in cardinal and gold. Though I’m sure he will get the chance to shine in that department throughout his career.

New York media praised their rookie quarterback all night, noting his resiliency after throwing his first interception. Besides the pick-six, Darnold did not look like a rookie all night, he looked confident and comfortable in the system he was running.

In fact, he became the first Jets quarterback to debut with two touchdowns, and the first NFL quarterback to win his first start by 31 points or more since Tom Brady in 2001. Granted the Jets’ extraordinary defensive showing put up most of the points, but Darnold was solid enough to lead the offense to two touchdowns and a couple field goals without making any cost worthy mistakes of their own.

Connor Hughes of The Athletic was just one of the many impressed with the rookie’s poise, “I’m wildly impressed with how Sam Darnold’s bounced back. The guy threw a pick-six on the first pass of his career. The first pass! Wouldn’t know that with how he’s looked since. This is why the Jets love him.”

When Darnold did have a chance to throw on the run, boy was it pretty. It is nothing short of amazing how accurate the 21 year old is outside of the pocket, then again USC fans have known this for a long time.

The rookie’s debut had Jets fans chanting his name towards the end of the game, New York has their man and Darnold has all the tools to dominate the AFC East for years to come.