EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold was looking for the weakness in the New England Patriots’ defense on Monday night. Instead, he found ghosts.
Darnold was mic’d up by ESPN and was heard saying he was “seeing ghosts” after throwing one of his four interceptions. The Patriots’ defense was not happy when they heard Darnold say before the game that he would simply “find the weakness” in their unit.
“I think he’s still looking for it,” safety Duron Harmon quipped after the game, which the Patriots won 33-0.
They were quite pleased when they were informed about that “ghosts” line, however.
“Ooh, he did?” linebacker Van Noy said. “Ooh, man. That’s the Boogeyman. It’s real.”
Van Noy interrupted another question to come back to Darnold seeing ghosts.
“Sorry, sorry,” Van Noy said. “He really said that? Oh man. That’s crazy for him to say that. That makes it real, you know what I’m saying? That’s crazy.
“I can’t believe he said that. I mean, a loss for words for a sec. I think it’s just a testament of how well we’re playing, to be honest. We played really well tonight. Happy about it.”
What exactly does that line mean to the Patriots’ defense?
“Disguising coverages, doing a good job of just baiting him into some looks,” Harmon said. “Just dictating where he is going to throw the ball. We did a good job of knowing where he’s going to throw the ball based on the disguising and the coverages that we were playing. Everybody did a good job of just reading the quarterback and when he had an opportunity to make a play on the ball, we made it.”
The Patriots’ defense is on another level through seven games. The team is allowing less than 7 points per game and is on pace to let up just 110 on the season. The 16-game record for least points allowed in a season is 165 let up by the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.
The Patriots lead the NFL with 18 interceptions. The next best team, the Carolina Panthers, has nine. The 2003 Patriots had 29 interceptions, which is the most by a Bill Belichick-led New England unit. This squad is on pace for 41 picks.
The Patriots’ defense seemingly had success with the zero-blitz Monday night when they sent six pass rushers and trusted their secondary in 1-on-1 coverage without safety help over the top. By the looks of things, the Patriots picked off two passes — by cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Devin McCourty — using this look.
“We wouldn’t run a blitz-zero if we weren’t confident in who we had covering,” Harmon said. “I feel like we’ve got the best corners in the NFL. We got a pretty good secondary. Just great players all around. When you’ve got the front and the back end playing good and playing together and disguising and working well together, it’s a recipe for a good defense.”
The Patriots actually let the Jets into the red zone twice Monday night. They came away with interceptions on both drives. Harmon and safety Terrence Brooks both picked off Darnold near the goal line.
“I think Duron and Devin and Brooks when he was in there, those guys do a really good job of disguising the coverages,” Belichick said. “Jason (McCourty), Jon Jones, Steph, JC Jackson, the secondary works very hard at that, at disguising and moving around, being in different spots, doing the same thing from different places and so forth. They take a lot of pride in that. They’re very good at it. Depends on the offensive look, they can adapt their disguise to try to fit the look, so they do a real good job at that.”
There will be ongoing concerns about the Patriots’ offense after Monday night’s game despite the shutout win. The Patriots gained just 323 yards on offense and averaged 2.2 yards per carry. Quarterback Tom Brady threw another interception and averaged just 5.5 yards per attempt.
The Patriots could probably use another offensive weapon and reportedly got it Tuesday morning by acquiring Mohamed Sanu from the Atlanta Falcons. They were missing wide receiver Josh Gordon and running back Rex Burkhead, and a boost to their depth should be be beneficial. But it might not have been necessary given how the Patriots’ defense is playing.
For the first time since the 2000s, the strength of the Patriots is on defense. That unit is winning football games, and they’ve proved their early-season performances are not a fluke. The Patriots’ defense is historically great through seven games. Essentially, all the Patriots’ offense needs to do is score a couple of touchdowns, and the Patriots will come away with a victory. On Monday night, the offense contributed four.
Temper your panic. The Patriots are the best team in football even if their offense might not look how you expect.