DETROIT – Mark Sanchez's screen pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown — by a rookie who didn't start playing football until the year after Sanchez was drafted.
It was an immediate flashback to the problems Sanchez has had over the last couple years, but at least this time, he bounced back.
"I know I'm getting better at that," Sanchez said. "I think it comes with maturity and experience. You can't beat yourself up for a mistake."
Sanchez threw a touchdown pass before leaving New York's exhibition opener, and the Jets went on to lose to the Detroit Lions 26-17 on Friday night. Geno Smith, the rookie who is Sanchez's main competition this preseason, left in the third quarter with a right ankle injury.
Lions rookie Ziggy Ansah made an immediate impression when he intercepted Sanchez's pass and ran it back 14 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.
"It's not going to stop there. I think he has a lot of great natural talent," Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. "He has great instincts for finding the ball and making plays."
Sanchez went 10 of 13 for 125 yards. Smith was 6 of 7 for 47 yards but did not lead any scoring drives.
Detroit's Matthew Stafford played two series, going 3 of 8 for 58 yards and leading the Lions to a field goal. All three of his completions went to Calvin Johnson.
Ansah grew up in Ghana, playing soccer and basketball. He put on football pads for the first time three years ago, and now the Lions hope he'll become a big part of their defense. Detroit took the 6-foot-5 defensive end with the No. 5 pick in this year's draft.
Ansah was able to get his hands up quickly when he intercepted Sanchez's pass, and his return to the end zone made it 7-0.
"We've got a lot of work to do," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "We had 11 penalties, and you can't win if you keep playing first-and-20. We had two turnovers and we didn't get a takeaway. We have to stop the self-inflicted problems pretty quickly."
Sanchez looked sharp at times, completing an 18-yard pass over the middle to Clyde Gates on third-and-10, shortly after the interception. The Jets trailed 10-0 when Sanchez led them on an 80-yard scoring drive that ended when he found Jeff Cumberland for a 26-yard touchdown play.
Sanchez is coming off two mistake-prone seasons in which he led the NFL with 52 turnovers in that span. His early interception against Detroit did not inspire confidence, but it's still not clear what the Jets have in Smith.
"I thought all three quarterbacks looked good when the protection held up," Ryan said.
Smith was able to walk back to the tunnel under his own power, and Ryan said he'd be looked at Saturday. There was only one major injury in the game — Jets running back John Griffin fractured a leg.
The Lions didn't answer all of their questions. The Stafford-to-Johnson connection looked as good as ever, but Detroit needs other receiving threats. Nate Burleson didn't catch a pass, and Ryan Broyles — who is recovering from a right knee injury — didn't play.
Reggie Bush, who signed with the Lions in the offseason, contributed one highlight on his first carry. Bush slipped to the outside and jumped over cornerback Kyle Wilson, who missed completely on a diving tackle attempt. That play drew some ooohs and ahhhs from the crowd.
"He was already low, he was already short, so he just made it kind of easy on me," Bush said. "It was an easy decision."
Detroit must finally replace longtime kicker Jason Hanson, who retired. David Akers made a 47-yard field goal in the first quarter, and Norwegian sensation Havard Rugland added kicks of 49 and 50 yards in the second half. Rugland became a hit because of a YouTube video he posted last year that showed him kicking a football to a friend on a boat in a lake, among other tricks.
Shaun Hill, Detroit's backup quarterback, went 11 of 18 for 136 yards and a touchdown.
NOTES: The Jets were without WR Santonio Holmes, who has been out with a foot injury. RB Joe McKnight was also out — he's been going through the league's official concussion protocol. ... Lions S Louis Delmas (left knee) did not play either. ... Detroit WR Matt Willis had three catches for 51 yards, including a fine grab in the back corner of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown in the second quarter.