DENVER – Sean Payton blistered his predecessor. He called his performance one of the worst in NFL history, a testament to the 15-game clown show in Denver.
But on a sun-bleached Sunday, the Broncos proved they Can’t Hackett. They fell to their former offensive coordinator, a heart-in-a-blender 31-21 loss that kept them winless at Empower Field this season.
Inconceivably, the Jets had a chance to ice the game with a field goal and Zach Wilson threw an interception on third-and-5 from the 27-yard line, underthrowing Garett Wilson as Pat Surtain II delivered his first interception of the season at the 3.
The Broncos took over needing a field goal to tie with 2:14 remaining. After converting a third-and-15 to Jerry Jeudy, Russell Wilson committed a mental error. He tried to scramble out of trouble with 41 seconds left instead of throwing the ball away. Payton let him have it as he returned to the sideline. The ball was stripped out of his hands and Bryce Hall scooped it up and scored, ending the Jets’ three-game losing skid.
The game featured eight fumbles and seven third-down conversions.
For Denver, it puts them likely in a position as an aggressive seller in the trade market over the next three weeks. That was the context as Hackett accepted hugs from multiple players in the waning moments.
The Broncos had a chance.
Trailing 24-13, the Broncos offense awoke from a slumber. After five consecutive drives failed to produce a first down in the second half, the Broncos drove 75 yards for a touchdown. It cut the deficit to 24-21 after the two-point conversion by Michael Burton.
In a battle of a pair of one-win games, the Broncos failed dramatically in two areas.
With the Jets relying on a pair of backup corners, they made passing a kidney stone look easier than passing the football. After three quarters Russell Wilson had 66. And they could not stop the run. The Broncos have shown less resistance than a water slide, allowing a club-record 730-plus rushing yards over the past three games dating to the Miami loss. Breece Hall boasted 177 yards on 22 carries.
Hall is a fiber optics player in a dial-up world. He blew out his knee in Denver last season but not before busting a 62-yard run. No longer a pitch count, Hall breezed 72 yards untouched on the Jets’ first play of the second half. It shoved them ahead 15-13 and left Hall with a season-high 131 yards. Safety Justin Simmons said last week that Hall did not look like he had lost a step. The focus was on preventing big plays. Then it became not allowing two.
With 10:25 remaining in the game, the Broncos had five straight second-half series without a first down and had -18 yards. Every time it appears the Broncos have reached the abyss, they pull up a sinkhole cover and dive into the sewer.
After the Broncos’ second straight three-and-out in the third quarter, the Jets continue to play conservatively, but effectively. Able to run the ball to create manageable third downs, the Jets moved into the red zone. Elijah Garcia’s sack halted the march, leading to another short kick from Greg Zuerlein to inflate the Jets’ cushion to 18-13.
What happened next spoke to two teams with a combined two wins. The Broncos recovered a Xavier Gipson fumbled punt as Tremon Smith pounced on the ball lost in the sun and shadows. Then Denver gave it right back on a botched trick play. Samaje Perine took a pitch and attempted to toss it to Marvin Mims Jr. on a reverse. With the spacing off, the ball hit Mims near his shoulder pads and the Jets secured it.
That led to a steady diet of the Jets ground game.
Mims suffered through his worst game as a pro. He lost a kick in the sun last week in Chicago that ricocheted off his facemask, but the Broncos recovered. On his first punt return, the explosive rookie should have called for a fair catch. The Jets’ practice squader Irvin Charles poked the ball loose and New York recovered. So, despite delivering only 14 yards on their first seven plays, the Jets took a 3-0 lead with a 30-yard field goal.
The Broncos delivered a caffeinated response. With Javonte Williams sidelined with a quad injury, the Broncos leaned on rookie Jaleel McLaughlin. He has been a human starburst. McLaughlin bolted for 38 yards on a toss sweep, showing elite patience. And he scampered 22 yards into the end zone on a dump pass that he bobbled, then made a defender miss. The 75-yard drive featured 63 from McLaughlin as Denver secured a 7-3 lead.
The Jets struck back with their defense. Wilson held onto the ball too long in the end zone and the officials flagged him for intentional grounding as he heaved the ball towards the sideline. It resulted in a safety, shaving the Broncos’ advantage to 7-5.
When the Jets exited the tunnel, tight end C.J. Ozumah exited the south tunnel and declared, “Let’s win this (bleep) for Hackett.” After the first quarter, the Broncos boasted 132 yards to the Jets’ 20, completely on-brand for Hackett’s offense in his career and his 15 forgettable games in Denver last season. As a reminder of the clumsy operation last year, Hackett’s offense failed to stop the clock on the 8-yard line as time ran out at the end of the half, costing New York an easy three points. It was Wilson’s fault, but also a reflection of a poor play call on a pass to the flat with no timeouts.
Denver zoomed back into the red zone, buoyed by a 25-yard screen to Samaje Perine. A first-and-5 turned from opportunity to disappointment. Wilson was mugged on a third-down quarterback draw, leaving the Broncos to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Wil Lutz with 12:47 remaining in the half.
New York shaved the deficit to 10-8 on a 26-yard boot. More concerning was that Hall began to percolate, sitting at 59 yards on nine carries.
The Broncos entered the game seeking balance and in the first half, they achieved it. After an 11-play, 71-yard drive that added another field goal, Russell Wilson had 12 passes and the team boasted 12 runs. In the first four weeks, a team built this offseason to assume a physical identity rushed 84 times compared to 132 passing attempts.
Nik Bonitto spearheaded the improved first-half defense with two sacks, pushing him near the league lead. The Broncos had allowed 130 points over their past 10-plus quarters entering Sunday.
A 13-8 cushion was not ideal, but better than 13-11.
In the end, the Broncos made mistakes befitting a one-win team. They could not muster a comeback. Or Hackett.
Javonte Williams worked out in pregame, testing out his quad injury. It was determined that he needed more time to rest, so he was declared inactive. Williams will likely be good to go vs. Chiefs. ...
Nose tackle D.J. Jones hurt his knee in the first half and did not return. Mike Purcell, returning from a rib issue, replaced him. ...
There were 3,937 announced no-shows in the paid sellout crowd. ...