Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Matthew Stafford can understand it all, everything New York Jets rookie Sam Darnold might be going through this week. Because the veteran quarterback has been there, and he understands all the expectations and ups and downs that could come.
In 2009, Stafford was Darnold — opening his rookie season as a highly touted quarterback on the road against an opponent with a veteran defense and a top quarterback. That opponent was New Orleans with Drew Brees. And the Saints ended that season by beating Indianapolis in the Super Bowl.
Stafford watched Darnold play at USC. Watched him play during the preseason. Likes his arm. Thinks Darnold is “a talented kid.” But like any rookie, Stafford said, you don’t know what you don’t know because college is way different than the NFL.
“Listen, this game is about experience,” Stafford said. “This league is about experience. You know, he played at a high level in college against some high-level competition. He’s gotten some under his belt in the preseason and he’s a talented guy.
“He can make a bunch of plays not only with his arm but with his feet. We’ve seen it more and more recently, these young guys coming in and playing at a really high level.”
Stafford and Darnold weren’t in the exact same situation. Darnold has more talent around him in New York than Stafford did coming off the Lions’ 0-16 season in 2008. But the issues he faced in 2009 will be similar to what Darnold will face this week against Detroit and for the first part of this season.
Stafford’s first game as a pro didn’t turn out too well, either. He completed 16 of 37 passes for 205 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. He was sacked once and had a passer rating of 27.4 — the worst of his career.
“All of it is tough. We weren’t a great football team at that point,” Stafford said. “We were rebuilding in a lot of areas. I was not by any means, and still am not, a finished product. You know, learning on the fly against some great competition, but that’s what it’s all about.”
So Darnold will start in Detroit. Against Stafford. On Monday Night Football. And the Lions, like the Saints did to a rookie 10 years ago, will hope to give the Jets’ starter plenty more to learn.
Photo: AP Photo/Gail Burton