EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Near the end of his postgame news conference, New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson received the "ghost" question -- a not-so-veiled reference to Sam Darnold's nightmarish Monday night game against the New England Patriots in 2019.
Do you feel like you were seeing ghosts out there?
"No," Wilson said with a small laugh, "most definitely not."
Alas, the question was inevitable, considering his ragged performance Sunday (four interceptions, just like Darnold) and the opponent (yep, those pesky Patriots again). Wilson's day was an all-time clunker, the main reason the Jets lost 25-6, but let's make a couple of things clear:
One, he wasn't as bad as Darnold. Two, Wilson has a chance to rebound quickly. Yes, really.
For a Jets quarterback, a game like this almost qualifies as a rite of passage. Heck, even the legendary Joe Namath, who attended Sunday's game, once threw six interceptions in a game. Wilson's most recent predecessors -- Darnold, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Mark Sanchez -- also delivered similar clunkers. It's part of the deal when you play quarterback for the Jets. Eventually, you're going to play an embarrassing, burn-the-film kind of game.
Wilson (19-for-33, 210 yards, no touchdowns, 37.0 passer rating) doesn't even crack the top four in recent Jets stinkers. My ranking:
1. Darnold, 2019, Week 7: Not only did he have the four picks and a paltry 3.6 rating, but it happened on Monday Night Football and his sideline comment to a coach ("I'm seeing ghosts") was broadcast to the nation because he was miked up. Basically, it was him unwittingly telling the world he was confused by Bill Belichick's defense, that he was seeing defenders that weren't there. Darnold wasn't a rookie, mind you; he was more than a season into his career.
2. Sanchez, 2009, Week 6: As a rookie, Sanchez hit rock bottom with five interceptions, 119 yards, 10-for-29 efficiency and a 8.3 rating in a 16-13 overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills. Incredibly, the Jets nearly won the game. His game was so alarming that, a few weeks later, the coaches tried to help Sanchez by giving him a color-coded wrist band designed to streamline his decision-making.
3. Fitzpatrick, 2016, Week 3: Facing the Kansas City Chiefs on the road, the man threw six interceptions, including picks on his last five possessions. Fitzpatrick just kept slinging in the 24-3 loss, finishing with an 18.2 passer rating. Remarkably, he didn't lose his starting job after the game. That didn't happen for a few more weeks.
4. Sanchez, 2012, Week 15: This turned out to be Sanchez's last stand. In a prime-time game at the Tennessee Titans, he threw four interceptions and mishandled a low snap in the final seconds of a 14-10 loss. Afterward, coach Rex Ryan benched his quarterback in the locker room. Later, Sanchez was seen with tears in his eyes. Because of an injury, he wound up starting the finale, but his run as the starting quarterback effectively ended that night in Nashville.
To Wilson's credit, he seemed unfazed by his outing Sunday, vowing not to let his mistakes affect his aggressive mindset. He said all the right things. The question is, can he back it up next week? The next test -- a road date against the Denver Broncos (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS) -- won't be easy. It took Darnold weeks to get over his "ghost" game. Some might argue that he never did, not with the Jets, anyway.
Wilson has one factor in his favor: The Jets displayed a competent running game against the Patriots, as they rushed for 152 yards. The best way to pull a young quarterback out of a funk is to run the ball, and that, no doubt, will be a big part of the game plan. Rookie Michael Carter, who ran for a team-high 59 yards on 11 carries, figures to be a bigger part of the plan.
"I’m going to take that this week and it’s on my shoulders," Wilson said. "I’ve got to do better."
Despite all the cringe-inducing plays, Wilson demonstrated the arm talent that made the Jets fall in love with him. Late in the game, when there was no hope, he fired a 35-yard completion to Jeff Smith.
A certain future Hall of Fame coach on the opposite sideline took notice.
"That last '7' route with a minute to go in the game in front of their bench," Belichick said, "that was a pretty good throw."
The talent is there. Now comes the hard part: learning how to use it.