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'A Great Challenge': Robert Saleh Reacts to Matchup With Sam Darnold in Week 1

The first Sunday of the 2021 NFL season will be a momentous occasion for Robert Saleh, standing on the sidelines for the first time as a head coach. 

Saleh's debut with Gang Green won't be the only storyline for Week 1, though.

New York is set to face the Carolina Panthers, an opportunity for ex-Jets quarterback Sam Darnold to get some revenge on his old team.

Asked on NFL Network this week about the matchup with Darnold, Saleh downgraded the importance of the history between the quarterback and his old team. The head coach was already focused on the challenge of lining up against a talented player and football team.

"It really didn't matter," he said, recalling his reaction to seeing the Jets' schedule. "We knew we were going to see somebody in Week 1. The fact that it's Sam doesn't change the approach. I am excited for Sam and his opportunity. He's a fantastic young man and it's going to be a great challenge to go against him."

Odds are No. 2 pick Zach Wilson will be leading the Jets against Darnold on that first Sunday of the season. As has been the case since the NFL draft, Saleh chose not to name Wilson his starter, placing an emphasis on competition across his roster as everyone jockeys for playing time this offseason.

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Saleh will also be coaching the Jets during the organization's first 17-game season in the league's history. New York was given a bye week in Week 6, right after the team is scheduled to travel to London to face the Atlanta Falcons.

In an 18-week campaign, Week 6 is pretty early to have time off. Rather than dwelling on something out of his control, however, Saleh emphasized the positives from the second half of Gang Green's schedule.

"We do have a Thursday night game that follows Week 9, which is kind of like a mini bye," he said. "You can see from a schedule standpoint that once that mini bye comes off, we've got a lot of back-to-back home games with no back-to-back road games."

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