EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Emboldened by his terrific Week 6 performance, New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold entered Monday night playing and talking like a true franchise quarterback. By the second quarter of the Jets’ 33-0 loss to the New England Patriots, he was talking like a beaten man.
“I’m seeing ghosts,” Darnold — mic’d up by ESPN — said on the sideline after his third turnover.
It was an early Halloween gag, presented by the man who has haunted the Jets for two decades.
Confused and rattled by Bill Belichick’s suffocating defense, Darnold set a career high with five turnovers — and that includes his college career at USC. He threw four interceptions and lost a fumble as the Jets (1-5) lost their eighth straight to the Patriots (7-0).
Statistically, it was one of the worst passing days in Jets history. Darnold finished with a 3.6 passer rating; the worst is 2.7, set by J.J. Jones in 1975 (minimum 20 attempts).
“I just gotta see the field a lot better,” Darnold said of his “seeing ghosts” remark. “That’s kinda what that means. It was a rough day out there, rough night out there, and obviously I gotta be better and learn from the mistakes. But we will get better.”
Darnold threw an interception on his first pass of the game, serving as a bad omen. He was stunningly careless with the football, constantly throwing off his back foot into tight coverage.
Two interceptions came in the red zone, three came in New England territory and three came against a blitz. Before Monday night, he had only one career interception versus the blitz, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. He also was involved in a safety when he failed to catch a high shotgun snap and batted the ball out of the end zone.
In only three starts, Darnold has three red zone interceptions, tied with Baker Mayfield for the league lead.
It was indeed a brutal night for the second-year quarterback, who showed so much promise in last week’s win over the Dallas Cowboys — his first game after missing three games due to a bout with mononucleosis.
“We didn’t stay ahead of the chains,” Darnold said. “We found ourselves in too many third and longs, and whenever that happens, they’re gonna bring it and put their guys covering our receivers 10 yards deep. For me, I just gotta spit the ball out and get completions.”
Facing the Patriots for only the second time in his career, Darnold completed only 11 of 30 passes for 86 yards. He connected only nine times with his wide receivers, who couldn’t beat New England’s man-coverage schemes. The lone bright spot was Le’Veon Bell, who rushed for a season-high 70 yards.
Darnold received little help from his makeshift offensive line, which started two players who began the season as backups — left guard Alex Lewis and rookie left tackle Chuma Edoga, who made his first career start at the position.
The pass protection was poor at times, as the offensive line communicated poorly against the New England blitzes, resulting in unblocked rushers.
Darnold’ first interception happened when right guard Brian Winters didn’t block blitzing linebacker Jamie Collins. Darnold panicked and heaved a floater that was picked off by Devin McCourty, the safety’s fifth of the season.
“Obviously that first pick, it wasn’t a good feeling,” Darnold said. “And right there, that’s the one I’d like to have back. Because if I don’t throw that I feel like it is a different game. It’s easy to say that after the loss like that, but I just gotta play a lot better, and us as an offense and collectively as a team, we need to get better and we will.”
On Darnold’s fumble, the offensive line slid to left, leaving linebacker John Simon free on the right side. The Patriots tricked the Jets by faking a “Cover Zero” blitz, then rushing only four. The result was a strip sack.
The Patriots converted the fumble, deep in New York territory, into a touchdown, making it 24-0 in the second quarter.
And on it went.
“I’m gonna put this behind me after tomorrow, and I’ll watch the tape,” Darnold said. “The outside noise doesn’t bother me at all. People are gonna say what they want. But for us as a team, we just gotta continue to work hard. And us as an offense, we gotta execute a lot better, and we will.”
During the run-up to the game, Darnold expressed supreme confidence, saying his offense will be “unstoppable” once tight end Chris Herndon returns from a hamstring injury. He praised the New England defense but added, “Just like any other team, they’re not unbeatable. So we just go out there, find the weakness in the defense and keep working it. That’s what we’re going to do on Monday night.”
The Patriots used that comment as motivational fuel. McCourty mentioned the quote in his pep talk to the defense during his pregame huddle on the field.
For first-year Jets coach Adam Gase, it was another embarrassing loss to the Patriots. In two games this season, the Jets were outscored 63-14. In the first meeting, Gase had to start third-stringer Luke Falk, who has since been released.
This time, Gase had no excuses.