A few minutes after the most wretched individual performance of his life, Sam Darnold stood at the far end of the Jets’ locker room, surrounded by reporters and cameras, and tried to make sense of what had just happened.
The Jets’ quarterback was absolutely miserable in a 33-0 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots. He threw four interceptions, lost a fumble, batted a ball out of the back of the end zone for a safety and suffered the kind of ignominious moments that can last a lifetime.
But he insisted that what happened Monday night at MetLife Stadium will not inflict a permanent scar, that he not only will recover from this but be better for having lived it.
“I’m going to put this behind me after tomorrow,” he said after I asked if he was concerned about the game having a lingering effect on him. “The outside noise doesn’t bother me at all. People are going to say what they want. For us, as a team, we’ve got to work hard, and us, as an offense, we’ve got to execute a lot better. And we will.”
Darnold had a pitiful rating of 3.6 after going 11-for-32 for 86 yards. It was especially unfortunate considering what he’d said a few days earlier, when he suggested the Jets’ offense soon would be brilliant.
“Once all the guys are back together,” he had said, “I think we’re unstoppable as an offense. Or we can be. It’s just up to us and how we execute. I think we’re capable of so many points . . . The sky’s the limit for us.”
Darnold’s night of misery began early. On the Jets’ first possession, he was picked off by safety Devin McCourty at the Jets’ 18. Early in the second quarter, he was sacked at the Jets’ 42 and lost a fumble that the Patriots converted into a touchdown for a 24-0 lead.
It was so bad for Darnold, who was miked up for the ESPN broadcast, that he was heard saying “I’m seeing ghosts” while sitting on the Jets’ bench in the second quarter. It no doubt will go down as yet another symbol of the Jets’ abject frustration against the Patriots, joining the infamous “Butt Fumble” by Mark Sanchez in 2012.
“For me, I just got to see the field a lot better,” he said. “That’s what that [line about seeing ghosts] means. It was a rough night out there. Obviously, I’ve got to be better and learn from the mistakes, but we will get better.”
The biggest lament for Darnold: his first interception. “It sucked,” he said. “That first pick wasn’t a good feeling. That’s the one I’d like to have back, because if I don’t throw that, I feel like it’s a different game. It’s easy to say that after a loss like that. I’ve just got to play a lot better. We need to get better, and we will.”
In the third quarter, Darnold attempted a pass over the middle for Robby Anderson, but facing a heavy blitz, he rushed it and was picked off by Stephon Gilmore.
With the Jets backed up inside their 5 after a New England punt, Ryan Kalil’s snap sailed over Darnold’s head and into the end zone. Darnold batted the ball out of the back of the end zone, incurring a penalty that resulted in a Patriots safety to make it 26-0.
And still more.
Darnold had good field position after Tom Brady was intercepted, but he couldn’t connect with Demaryius Thomas in the back of the end zone. Darnold threw off his back foot and his pass sailed right into the arms of cornerback Terrence Brooks.
Games like this can leave lasting damage, and Darnold undoubtedly will feel the pain of this one for a long time. Maybe for the rest of his career. After all, Sanchez still is associated with his embarrassing moment from nearly seven years ago.
That Darnold experienced his own Patriots hell so soon after expressing such optimism about the Jets’ offense makes it even worse. It is a moment he will have to live with, and the only way it can truly begin to fade away is if he puts together the kind of performances expected of a No. 3 overall draft pick.
And even then, it will always be a haunting reminder: the night Darnold saw ghosts.