Quarterback Sam Darnold was talking smack in the days before the Jets’ Monday Night Football game with the Patriots. On the field, he pulled off a microscopic quarterback rating of 3.6 during New York’s 33-0 loss. AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Sam Darnold was going to find the weakness in the New England Patriots defense Monday night “and keep working it.”

The New York Jets quarterback was going to use his “unstoppable” offense to help take down the unbeaten Patriots.

Darnold, who didn’t play in the first meeting between the two teams, a 30-14 Jets loss Week 3, was sure of it. So sure he had to brag.

Late in the second quarter, after throwing his second of four picks on the night, the world got a pretty good idea of Darnold’s revised mindset. From an ESPN microphone positioned on the Jets sideline, Darnold was heard offering the only explanation as to what was playing out on the network’s TV broadcast of the game:

“I’m seeing ghosts,” he said.

Indeed, the Patriots were coming from everywhere with blitzers, harassing Darnold every time he dropped back to throw the football. This was a living nightmare for the Jets quarterback, who completed just 11-of-32 passes for 86 yards with a microscopic quarterback rating of 3.6. He threw four interceptions and lost a fumble during a sack.

Darnold was clearly spooked by Bill Belichick’s defense, as the Patriots pummelled the Jets, 33-0.

“I still have to watch the tape and figure out exactly what happened,” the Jets shell-shocked quarterback said following the beat-down.

Here’s what happened. Darnold was overwhelmed by a Patriots defense that ran Cover-Zero blitzes on second and third down when the Jets faced long yardage. So they basically blitzed everyone, leaving the corners playing man-coverage with no help. The Jets never had enough people to block all the pass-rushers.

In the first half alone, Darnold was sacked by John Simon who forced a fumble recovered by Kyle Van Noy, and threw a pair of picks, one at the goal line to Duron Harmon. There were no Jets in the area on the Harmon play, just the Patriots safety. Several of Darnold’s gaffes led to points for the Patriots offense.

Let’s just say it’s never a good idea to mess with The Boogeymen, the nickname of the Patriots linebacker corps, or the defense in general.

Patriots safety Devin McCourty, who got members of the secondary fired up in the pregame huddle, drew on the “weakness” theme.

“We take pride in our defense,” said cornerback Jonathan Jones. “Any time somebody wants to point out, and tries to single us out and find a weakness, we come together and defend each other. So the front stood up, and the back end capitalized.”

The Patriots enjoyed hearing Darnold’s boastful words heading into the game. He was confident, to be sure. But when you’re dealing with Belichick’s defense, one that allowed just 8.0 points per game going in, and thrives on bulletin board material whether real or contrived, it just makes them even stingier.

“He kept trying to find our weakness,” linebacker Kyle Van Noy said of Darnold, “and we kept playing to our strengths.”

Told Darnold said he saw ghosts, Van Noy replied: “Oh, he did? That’s the Boogeymen.”

Van Noy almost couldn’t believe Darnold would admit to being so rattled.

“That’s crazy for him to say that,” said Van Noy. “That makes it real, you know what I’m saying?”

In other words, it makes all the disguising work the Patriots do to fool quarterbacks actually come to life.

And Darnold clearly had no idea what hit him in the first half. He was seeing ghosts. It didn’t get much better in the second half. In fact, it got worse. The ghosts multiplied. Stephon Gilmore picked him off on the first possession. On the second, he was forced to bat the ball out of the end zone for a safety after the ball was snapped over his head. On the third possession of the third quarter, he was picked off in the end zone by Patriots safety Terrence Brooks.

So what was Darnold thinking when he made the ghost comment?

“When I talk to coaches, I’ve just got to be straight up. For me, I’ve just got to see the field a lot better,” he said. “That’s kind of what that means. It was a rough day out there, a rough night out there.”

With the mini-bye after a Thursday night game, the Patriots had extra time to prepare for the Jets, and it showed. They really had Darnold’s number.

Weakness?

The Patriots sure found his. With a horrible offensive line, and Belichick sending blitzers from every direction, Darnold had no time to deliver the football. With Patriots in his face, harried at every turn, he was throwing off his back foot. And even when he had time, he was so affected by their rush, his throws were off the mark.

“I think it was just a testament to how well we were playing,” said Van Noy. “I felt like we did a good job of disguising, creating different looks from the top down. Clearly, he was struggling to figure out what we were doing because we went away with four picks and a sack-fumble, so it was pretty crazy.”

Added Harmon: “We knew he was a talented quarterback. He’s a top-five quarterback for a reason. He has the arm strength, accuracy, everything you want in a quarterback. But he’s still young. So we can make it hard on him, give him different looks with disguise.”

Between the pressure, and the points starting to add up on the other side, it was the perfect recipe for a disaster, as the Pats defense held the Jets to 154 total yards on offense.

“I definitely think I was pressing too hard, trying to get a 24-point score in one play,” Darnold said. “I’ve just got to take it one play at a time and continue to play the game the way it’s meant to be played.”
New Yorkers might fancy him a savior of the Jets franchise. But last night, he was simply more roadkill for the Patriots defense.

“He was seeing ghosts,” Harmon said of Darnold. “I’ll leave it there.”

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