If a soundbite winds up being the highlight of a quarterback’s night, that clearly means he didn’t have a good night.
When a mic’d up Sam Darnold was caught saying, “I’m seeing ghosts,” down 24-0 in the first half of Monday night’s contest against the New England Patriots, it was evident that things were somehow going to get worse for the New York Jets and their star QB.
And by the time the final whistle blew on the brutal 33-0 loss to the undefeated Patriots, those suspicions had been confirmed: Darnold went 11-of-32 for a career-low 86 yards, was sacked once for a loss of 13 yards and tied a career-high with four interceptions against the NFL’s best defense. An abysmal box score for any QB, but perhaps an even more discouraging one for a guy in his second game back from illness.
“When I talk to the coaches, I just got to be straight up and, for me, I just got to see the field a lot better; that’s kind of what that means,” Darnold told the media of his “ghosts” comment. “It was a rough night out there and obviously I got to be better and learn from the mistakes but we will get better.”
All night the Pats’ suffocating defense hurried Darnold’s throws, forcing him constantly to throw off his back foot and miss a number of targets. He admitted that the huge early deficit, coupled with how things had been going, influenced him to do too much.
“Yeah I definitely think I was pressing too hard, trying to get a 24-point score in one play,” Darnold said. “I just got to take it one play at a time and continue to play the game the way it’s meant to be played.”
The last time these two teams played Darnold was sidelined with mono but the result, while not identical, proved to be largely the same: New England’s “boogeymen” held the Luke Falk-led Jets to 98 passing yards and star running back Le’Veon Bell to 35 rushing yards on 18 carries. The Jets managed 14 points in that loss, but those came in garbage time by way of a blocked punt and a 61-yard Jamal Adams pick-six (on backup QB Jarrett Stidham) when N.Y. was already down 30-zip.
Bell (15 carries, 70 yards) fared marginally better on Monday, but was once again held largely in check. His thoughts on Darnold’s play carried a tune of a player who, with six games as a Jet now under his belt, is trying to still develop a rapport with his young QB.
“I think he learned a lot from tonight, sometimes you got to have that from a young player,” Bell said. “I’ve had games like that and it made me better so hopefully that’s like a step for him to get better. … When you’re playing against teams like the Patriots and they’re like really the best at what they do defense-wise, he’s gon’ learn from that and he’s gon’ be a better player.”
In 13 drives, the Jets were in Pats territory six times, four of which saw them cross the 50-yard line. Obviously, none yielded positive results, but coach Adam Gase revealed that, even when things were firmly out of reach, he opted to not bench Darnold in an effort to build both his and the offense’s level of confidence.
“When a game like this gets a little out of control, you’re trying to think, ‘How do you put something positive together so you can look at it and say OK, that was good, now we’re heading into next week?’ But we just kind of had something, at least we moved the ball a little bit there on one drive and then we just stalled out,” Gase said.
To go from an up week in your return to a down week can be hard for a second-year QB but Darnold has plenty of time to find his rhythm. It’ll be telling to see how he handles facing the Jaguars (3-4) on the road with a shortened week but the belief coming out of Week 7 is that things can’t possibly get any scarier for him as October nears its end.
“No, I’m going to put this behind me after tomorrow and I’ll watch the tape,” he said when asked if the loss will linger. “The outside noise doesn’t bother me at all, people are going to say what they want but, for us, as a team, we just got to continue to work hard and as an offense, we got to execute a lot better and we will.”