During ESPN’s broadcast of the Monday night game between the New York Jets and the visiting New England Patriots, Jets quarterback Sam Darnold was filmed on the sideline saying that he was “seeing ghosts” — a reference to a defense that flabbergasted the second-year man all night long. Darnold is not the first passer to be overwhelmed by the Patriots, but his struggles were given clear additional visualization at this moment.
The ghosts in question haunted the home team all night long, as the game’s final score of 33-0 in favor of New England shows. For safety Devin McCourty, whose first quarter interception was the first of five turnovers suffered by Darnold, the reason for this is a simple one: the Patriots defense played the game on its own terms from start to finish and did not take its collective foot off the gas even when already up by multiple scores.
“We talk about being aggressive, we talk about trying to make our own plays defensively and not just sitting back and waiting,” said the Patriots’ team captain during his press conference after the win over the division rival. “I think it’s our overall understanding of the defense. At times, it can be a safety, it can be one of the backs or one of the lineman. Understanding that it can keep switching. That makes it tough on teams.”
The Patriots’ defensive playmakers certainly came out in full force against the Jets’ overmatched offense. Not only did the unit register its third shutout in just seven games this season, it also actually outscored its opponent: while New York failed to get on the board, New England’s defense contributed two points to the final score thanks to a safety. Naturally, the frustrations on the other sideline kept mounting.
“I think for me, when I talk to the coaches, I just gotta be straight up,” said Darnold after the game when addressing the cameras picking him up speaking about getting spooked by the Patriots’ appropriately named “Boogeymen” defense. “For me, I just gotta see the field a lot better. That’s kinda what that means. It was a rough day out there, a rough night out there. Obviously, I got to get better and learn from the mistakes. But we will get better.”
Getting better is also what the Patriots need to do, according to McCourty — despite the recent success and a 7-0 start into to the season: “We just have to keep doing those things. Understand now, seven games in, teams have more film on us. They’re going to design things differently. We have to be ready to adjust, we have to be ready to continue to be versatile with our personnel and still try to make plays.”
The 32-year-old, however, appears to be confident in New England’s abilities to do all of that. After all, as he pointed out following Monday’s game, the Patriots are “getting a feeling of the blueprint” that is the foundation of their success and of what it takes to stay on top of the competition week-in and week-out: “The blueprint of coming out each week, each day in practice, putting in the work, studying film, getting on the same page.”
“We’re talking about adjustments right after the coin toss of something that might come in a game,” McCourty, who also called this defense one of the best of his tenure in New England, continued. “These guys are that locked in. We have to keep doing it because for the rest of the season, we’re going to get every offense’s best shot. They’re going to be ready to go. We’re not a surprise anymore, we just have to keep being locked in.”
If the Patriots continue doing just that — and there is little indication at this point that they will not be able to — Darnold certainly will not be the last quarterback this season to see ghosts when going up against them. The “Boogeymen” appear to be ready for more.