Patriots humiliated Sam Darnold, yet Jets are directing misplaced anger at ESPN over 'ghosts'

Dan WetzelColumnist

New England’s beatdown of AFC East rival New York was so thorough on Monday night that the Jets are mad at … ESPN?

On Tuesday, New York coach Adam Gase took exception with the cable network for airing sideline comments by quarterback Sam Darnold, who was mic’d up to deliver, well, sideline comments for the broadcast.

“I’m seeing ghosts,” Darnold said while trying to explain to a coach why he was en route to a horrific, four interception performance against the mighty Patriots defense. New England won, 33-zip.

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The line was television gold, a window into the tortured emotions of a young quarterback trying to survive the mental onslaught of a Bill Belichick defense. You could interview Darnold 1,000 times and never get such an honest, or revealing, admission.

That’s the point of mic’d up segments, or at least it should be.

Gase is a coach, not a television producer, so he saw only the negative fallout, that included New York Post covers and the likelihood the comment haunts (pun intended) Darnold into the future while allowing the Jets to give their most-hated opponent a slogan fit for T-shirts.

“It bothered me,” Gase said. “It bothered the organization. This gives us pause to really cooperate anymore because I don’t know how we can allow our franchise quarterback to be put out there like that.”

Jets head coach Adam Gase took issue with the airing of sideline comments that Sam Darnold made during a brutal outing against the Patriots. (USA TODAY Sports)
Jets head coach Adam Gase took issue with the airing of sideline comments that Sam Darnold made during a brutal outing against the Patriots. (USA TODAY Sports)

Perhaps Gase needs a refresher course on what being mic’d up is all about.

It would have been a broadcasting tragedy if that line wasn’t used. For viewers and fans, it’s a rare peek behind the curtain concerning the swirl and confusion of an NFL game.

ESPN doesn’t even manage the segment. It comes from NFL Films, which has an onsite rep who approves, or cuts, comments. The NFL signed off on it and it would be a shame if it pulled such a quote (which had no vulgarity or was overly emotional) out of fear that someone might be embarrassed. Either do this right or don’t do it.

Gase may be correct about putting his young QB out there too much. That should have crossed his mind prior to this game.

Darnold was making just his 16th career start and just his third of the season due to a bout of mononucleosis. He was going against a Patriots team that was undefeated (now 7-0) and riding a defense that statistically is historically good so far this season (it has allowed just three touchdowns).

Even more ominous is the reason for New England’s incredible success (besides weak opposition) isn’t as much physical as it is tactical, such as the revolutionary use of the Cover 0 scheme used Monday. Gase knew that Belichick, who routinely annihilates young quarterbacks, is still the coach up there, didn’t he?

What happened to Darnold, who remains a promising young player, was somewhat predictable – 11-of-32 for 86 yards, four interceptions, a lost fumble, a sack and a safety. He finished with a QB rating of 3.6 while the Jets managed a meager 154 yards from scrimmage (44 of them coming during during fourth-quarter garbage time).

He may be seeing ghosts for awhile.

“I think, for me, when I talk to the coaches, I just got to be straight up,” Darnold told reporters after the game when asked about the “ghosts” comment. “For me, I just got to see the field a lot better. That’s kind of what that means. It was a rough day out there, tough night out there.”

You can see why ESPN wanted a microphone on the quarterback opposing New England. The more unscripted and unvarnished material it gets, the better the broadcast it delivers to viewers.

The Jets? Barring an epic effort from Darnold where he solved the riddle that has befuddled the league for years, there were going to be uncomfortable moments where he dealt with failure. And then it was going to be shown. That’s how TV works.

Darnold was out for the first meeting between the two teams, but Gase was there. Didn’t he remember New York managed just 105 yards of total offense in a 30-14 loss? Didn’t he recall that the Jets’ offense scored neither touchdown, both of which came after the Pats built a 30-0 lead?

Was Gase really so confident that the Jets were going to do well against New England that such in-time publicity was worth it? If so, the entire franchise got way overconfident following a victory over the roller-coaster Cowboys.

That was Dallas. This is New England.

“I’m seeing ghosts,” should become the Patriots mantra for the rest of the season, at least the defense that is in need of one of those catchy nicknames (“Monsters of the Midway”) that help history to recall great teams and units.

It may be the ultimate compliment to Belichick, who nearly 20 years ago quit as head coach of New York after just one day on the job, famously scribbling on a napkin, “I resign as HC of the NYJ.”

A month later, the Jets traded him to New England where he changed the balance of the entire NFL and has won six Super Bowls, 16 AFC East championships and 31 times against New York.

As such, there’s plenty of things for the Jets to be upset about after a nationally televised humiliation that left the team 1-5 on the season.

The network that did the national televising isn’t one of them.

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