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'Ghost' buster: Jets praise QB Sam Darnold for growth since slump

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Orlovsky: Darnold will be too much for the Bengals (0:27)

Dan Orlovsky and Marcus Spears agree the Jets will get the win over the Bengals. (0:27)

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold didn't pull a Mitchell Trubisky and demand the TV sets in the team facility be turned off. When things got bumpy last month, Darnold blocked out the criticism the old-fashioned way. He focused on his job, impressing his coach and teammates.

"This is the first time I've been through a rough spell like that with a really young quarterback," coach Adam Gase said Wednesday. "I thought he handled it really well, considering that was one of those games you want to burn the tape. You want that thing eliminated from your résumé.

"The fact that he handled it as well as he did, I'm sure it wasn't easy. He never said anything to me. He did a good job of putting his head down, but I'm sure that wasn't an easy thing for him to do."

Gase was alluding to Darnold's four-interception nightmare against the New England Patriots on Oct. 21, which happened to be on Monday Night Football. Not only did the Jets get embarrassed 33-0, but Darnold -- mic'd up for the game -- was mocked for telling coaches on the sideline that he was "seeing ghosts."

In other words, he was confused by Bill Belichick's defense. Darnold's struggles continued the following week, when he threw three interceptions in a road loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, who played the "Ghostbusters" theme song on the stadium PA near the end of the game.

For the first time in his football life, Darnold was being criticized for his play. He appeared to be regressing under Gase, and it got ugly in New York.

"I just played terribly. It was embarrassing for me to go out there and play that way," he said of the New England game. "Really, for me, the worst part was letting my teammates down and going out there and losing the football game. That was the worst part for me."

Darnold, 22, didn't avoid TV and social media because he knows it's difficult to block out everything. He relied on family and close friends to insulate him from the nastiest stuff.

"I don't see everything," he said, "but I see some of the things, for sure."

After the Jacksonville game, Darnold walked into Gase's office and, stepping out of his shell, shared candid opinions about his likes and dislikes with regard to the offensive scheme. Gase made some adjustments, the pass protection improved and so did Darnold.

During the Jets' current three-game winning streak, Darnold has thrown more touchdown passes (seven) than every quarterback in the league not named Lamar Jackson, who has 12. The Jets, who face the winless Cincinnati Bengals (0-11) on Sunday, improved to 4-7, keeping alive faint playoff hopes.

"Young or not, there was a lot of criticism on him," wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said of Darnold, looking back to last month. "He dealt with it like a man. He stood up to it and challenged himself."

This was a new experience for Gase, who was around older quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler and Ryan Tannehill in his coaching past.

"I think those guys, they've been through a lot of different scars from the past that they know how to get through a lot of the stuff," Gase said.

With Darnold, who has only 21 career starts, the key was eliminating big mistakes. His decision-making has improved, which was evident last week during a 34-3 victory over the Oakland Raiders. On a few occasions, he sailed the ball out of bounds instead of trying to force a pass into coverage.

Darnold said he learned something important during his slump.

"I just realized the kind of trust that my teammates had in me and the coaches had in me," he said. "Because they didn't blink an eye."