FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) - Todd Bowles finally revealed the big decision that everyone expected.
Sam Darnold will start at quarterback in the New York Jets’ season-opening game at Detroit next Monday night.
The 21-year-old Darnold will also make some NFL history by becoming the youngest quarterback to start in Week 1 since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. At 21 years and 97 days, the rookie surpasses Drew Bledsoe (21-203), who held the distinction since starting for New England in 1993.
“Sam had a good preseason,” Bowles said Monday while making the announcement. “We weren’t holding him back, and we weren’t rushing him at the same time. He still has some things to learn, but it was (his) poise in the pocket and the way he grasped the offense coming in right away. … He gives us a very good chance to win.”
The announcement came as no surprise as the rookie was solid while starting the Jets’ second and third preseason games. New York traded Teddy Bridgewater to New Orleans last week , and Darnold then sat out the preseason finale at Philadelphia - clear signals the No. 3 overall draft pick would be under center against the Lions.
“For me, I’ve always been kind of a calm person and a guy who just goes out there and tries to do my job to the highest ability I can,” Darnold said before Bowles made the decision official. “If I get that opportunity to play, I’m going to play to the best of my ability.”
Darnold was given every opportunity to win the job in a competition with Bridgewater and incumbent Josh McCown, and he didn’t disappoint. He went 29 of 45 for 244 yards and two touchdowns with one interception in the preseason. Even more impressive to Bowles and the coaching staff was Darnold’s ability to quickly digest the playbook and not repeat mistakes.
Still, Bowles declined to make his decision official until seven days before the opener.
“Sam’s got feet to get himself out of trouble, probably, and he’s got a good pocket feel,” Bowles said. “He’s probably a little quicker and a step quicker than Josh at this point. Josh obviously is smarter, playing in the league longer, but Sam picks things up very well also. But it’s good to have a quarterback that can throw and move his feet.”
Darnold will not be the youngest quarterback to start in NFL history, though. That’s still Tommy Maddox, who was under center for Denver at 21 years, 81 days old in Week 12 of the 1992 season.
But Darnold will get a chance to make an early impact on a team that has been searching for a consistently productive franchise quarterback since the days of Broadway Joe.
Darnold will be the 31st quarterback to start a game since Joe Namath’s last game with the franchise in 1976. Richard Todd, Ken O’Brien, Chad Pennington and Mark Sanchez certainly had their moments, but none was able to sustain success or keep a frustrated fan base energized and hopeful over a long period.
The Jets hope Darnold ends that drought.
Oh, and then there’s the Super Bowl, where the franchise hasn’t been since Joe Namath famously delivered on his guarantee in 1969.
“Whether I play this year, next year or the year after that,” Darnold said, “I know that we’re going to win football games. It’s going to fun for a long time here in New York.”
First things first, though: Darnold needs to get ready for the Lions. The former USC star will have a baptism by fire with three games in 11 days. The Jets play their home opener on Sept. 16 against Miami, followed by a Thursday night game at Cleveland four days later.
Bowles and his coaching staff clearly believe Darnold will be able to handle the quick turnaround.
Shortly before meeting with the media, Bowles passed reporters in the hallway as they left the locker room. The coach was going in to tell both Darnold and McCown of his decision after meeting with his staff.
“They both were good,” Bowles said. “They’re both professionals.”
The youngster’s mental approach to the game has impressed NFL teams since he started playing in college. Despite starting just 24 games at USC, Darnold displayed the all-around potential of an elite starting QB. That was a major reason the Jets traded up three spots to No. 3 overall, hoping Darnold would fall to them.
After Cleveland took Baker Mayfield first and the Giants went with Saquon Barkley at No. 2, the Jets had their guy.
Darnold was impressive in the offseason and raised the Jets’ hope that he could progress quickly enough to start right away. After a three-day holdout at the start of training camp to settle his rookie contract, Darnold returned to the team and practiced immediately while showing only minor signs of being rusty.
Just a few weeks later, it was clear that Darnold would be leading the franchise when the regular season kicked off.
Of the five first-round QBs from this year’s draft, Darnold is the only starter for the opener. Mayfield, Josh Allen (Buffalo), Josh Rosen (Arizona) and Lamar Jackson (Baltimore) will be backups.
“I’ve had a ton of fun,” Darnold said of the past several weeks. “I keep saying it, but getting paid to play a sport that I love - and not having to go to class is pretty cool, too. Nah, it’s fun to be able to play this sport for a living and play with some really cool dudes.”
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