Sam Darnold’s first game back after a bout with smooching disease went great! The returning hero threw for 300-plus yards, and his Jets upset the Cowboys, and poor, discarded Luke Falk was swiftly forgotten. Darnold was even named AFC Offensive Player of the Week! Darnold’s second game, Monday night against the New England Patriots, did not build on that momentum. It was, in fact, a flaming disaster.
The Patriots have one of the stingiest, most opportunistic defenses in football, even if that reputation has been aided somewhat by a comically soft schedule to open the season. You’d expect any quarterback—especially any Jets quarterback—to be something less than their very best in this matchup. But Darnold, man. Holy crap. During the portion of the game where anyone could even pretend this was a real contest, Darnold made Luke Falk look like, I dunno, Ryan Fitzpatrick. Which admittedly isn’t saying much! Point is, Darnold was horrendous. Through three quarters, he’d completed just eight of his 21 throws, for just 50 yards passing, plus four interceptions, plus a lost fumble. He also had a shotgun snap shoot over his head and out the back of the end zone, for a safety. At no point did he look anything close to comfortable dropping back to pass behind a woefully overmatched offensive line. This hopeless desperation throw, which killed New York’s best shot at keeping things even remotely close, is fairly indicative of Darnold’s overall passing performance:
By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, Darnold was just flinging the ball into space and out of bounds and all over the damn place, as if he’d developed the quarterback version of the yips. Turns out the problems for Darnold went beyond Bill Belichick’s relentless defense and Adam Gase’s crappy offense—Darnold was overheard on the sideline in the first half complaining that he was “seeing ghosts.”
Seeing ghosts is probably not a complication of mononucleosis, and is probably Darnold’s way of describing his aura of blind panic in the pocket Monday night. Still, this close to Halloween, it’s a fool who rules out the presence of actual phantoms.