EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Sam Darnold had a better chance of finding Jimmy Hoffa’s remains in the nearby Meadowlands swamps than he did of spotting a weakness in the Patriots’ defense Monday night.
The Jets quarterback was harassed into hallucinations by the relentless Patriots — at one point, Darnold was caught saying he was “seeing ghosts” — as New England slapped a 33-0 loss on New York before a split crowd at MetLife Stadium.
“He really said that? That’s crazy for him to say that,’’ said Kyle Van Noy, apprised of Darnold’s ghost comment. “That makes it real . . . I can’t believe he said that . . . I think it’s just a testament to how well we’re playing, to be honest.’’
Sony Michel scored three touchdowns — though the run game struggled with just 74 yards on 34 carries — as the Patriots ran their record to 7-0 and completed their AFC East road slate at 3-0.
A week after returning from mononucleosis and leading the Jets to a win over the Cowboys, Darnold could not build off that momentum as he faced an ornery bunch of Patriots, who no doubt took notice of the brash QB’s words of the past week that he just needed to “find a weakness in the defense and keep working it.’’
Instead, it was the Patriots’ defense that worked over Darnold.
“I think we did a really good job tonight,’’ said Van Noy. “He was trying to find our weakness and we just kept trying to play to our strengths.’’
After winning just three games on the road last season, the Patriots already have won four this season, and all along they’ve said getting out to a quick start has been the key to that success.
It certainly was in this one.
The Patriots couldn’t have asked for a better beginning, scoring on their first four possessions and putting the Jets in a 24-0 hole.
The late-arriving crowd was just settling their tuchuses in the seats when Tom Brady and the defense had the Patriots up, 10-0.
New England lost the coin toss, took ball, and then effectively took the life out of the Jets.
Brady marched his guys 78 yards on 16 plays, chopping the first 8:47 off the clock. It was the club’s longest opening scoring drive since 2017 and the longest in the NFL this season. The Patriots, who were fresh out of fullbacks and running low on tight ends over the past week, received solid production out of both positions early.
“It was a good start,’’ said Brady. “Any time you can go seven or eight minutes, whatever that was, put the ball in the end zone on the road, it gives you a good feel. Good to get a win. Three division road wins. That’s pretty sweet.’’
Josh McDaniels started with a two-tight-end set with Ben Watson and Eric Tomlinson making their season debuts. He employed both players at fullback on the first drive, as well.
Brady hit five targets on the drive — Julian Edelman, Jakobi Meyers, Brandon Bolden, James White, and Watson, who converted a key third and 5 with an 11-yard catch to keep the march moving.
Three plays later, Watson cleared a path for Michel to run in from the 3-yard line for a 7-0 lead.
“It was good balance, different kind of distribution of the ball and so forth,’’ said Brady. “The big guys did a good job up front kind of running it and we had some good passes in there. It was just good execution.’’
The Patriots hadn’t had a tight end catch more than two passes in a game this season, and Watson came in and caught three for 18 yards.
The Boogeymen then took the field for the first time and it didn’t take them long to scare the bejeebers out of Darnold and everyone else in a green jersey.
After Elandon Roberts stopped Le’Veon Bell for a 2-yard gain, Devin McCourty picked off Darnold to put the Patriots back in business at the Jets’ 12.
It was the fifth interception of the season for McCourty, more than 14 teams have this season.
In an oddity, the Patriots lost 4 yards on the possession but still extended their lead to 10-0 when Mike Nugent was perfect on a 34-yard field goal.
New England forced a three-and-out and Brady proceeded to lead the Patriots to the end zone again.
He opened the drive with a 28-yard back-shoulder bullet to Bolden and capped the 67-yard journey by dropping a 26-yard end zone dime to Phillip Dorsett, increasing the lead to 17-0 with nine seconds left in the first quarter.
John Simon strip-sacked Darnold on the next drive and Van Noy pounced on it to set the Patriots up at the New York 38.
McDaniels was seemingly holding open fullback auditions on this drive, and Roberts and offensive lineman James Ferentz each took a turn trying to clear paths for the tailbacks.
Ferentz connected on one, clocking a Jet and allowing Michel to crash over from the 1-yard line to boost the lead to 24-0.
“Anything to help the team,’’ said Roberts, who said he played some fullback “way, way back” in his youth. “Anything to help our offense in that situation, I was glad to do it. It didn’t distract me from my defensive duties.”
While Brady was leading his team to touchdowns, Darnold was taking the Jets down the Primrose Path to disaster.
He was under siege by the Patriots’ blitz packages throughout the game. He connected on just 11 of 32 passes for 86 yards, 4 interceptions, and a 3.6 passer rating.
Darnold was sacked once and also was called for a safety after illegally batting the ball out of the back of the end zone.
In addition to McCourty, Duron Harmon, Stephon Gilmore, and former Jet Terrence Brooks picked off Darnold.
“They’re playing great defense,’’ said Brady. “They cover, rush, stop the run, make critical plays, it’s just awesome to watch.’’