DENVER (AP)The expression on Sean Payton’s face when his quarterback retreated to the sideline after his last-minute fumble sealed Denver’s latest loss was a combination of exasperation, irritation and frustration.
A telling look by the coach of the Denver Broncos to sum up the game and, really, the season so far.
Payton appeared none too pleased with Russell Wilson after his QB’s late fumble while scrambling away from pressure was returned 39 yards for a touchdown by Bryce Hall that capped the New York Jets’ 31-21 win Sunday.
It was that sort of head-scratching afternoon for the Broncos (1-4), who also had a muffed punt, lost a fumble on a poorly executed reverse and saw Wilson called for intentional grounding in the end zone for a safety. If that wasn’t enough, Denver had a third quarter in which the offense totaled minus-16 yards in four drives.
“No one cares about what ails us or woes us,” Payton said. “This one hurts. We didn’t play well.”
Or outcoach Nathaniel Hackett, either.
The Jets offensive coordinator and Payton’s predecessor in Denver got the last laugh. Hackett was fired as Denver’s head coach last season after going 4-11 as Wilson struggled in his transition from Seattle. Payton was hired to help fix the Broncos and find the old Wilson.
Payton didn’t do himself any favors at the start of training camp when he ripped Hackett for the job he’d done in Denver, particularly the way he handled Wilson during the quarterback’s dismal 2022 season.
He called Hackett’s season in Denver one of the worst coaching jobs in NFL history – something that’s backfired as the Broncos bungle their way through some of the same problems that plagued them a year ago.
Payton’s trashing of Hackett riled up the Jets (2-3) for this one. Tight end C.J. Uzomah delivered a fiery speech in defense of Hackett right before the Jets took the field. It worked and Hackett was given a game ball by Jets coach Robert Saleh.
“We’re playing for our boys, right?” Uzomah said. “Like if somebody talks (expletive) about somebody on this team … we’re going to play for that person.”
The Broncos have started the Payton era with three losses at home, to the Raiders, Commanders and Jets, who are a combined 2-9 against opponents other than Denver.
The Broncos haven’t found out how to put together two good halves, and they don’t have much time to figure it out as they travel to Kansas City on Thursday night to try to snap a 15-game losing streak against the Chiefs.
Early on, the Broncos had the offense revving, with Jaleel McLaughlin scoring on a 22-yard pass from Wilson.
Then, it began to go sideways, with Wilson called for intentional grounding in the end zone for a safety.
And then, the offense really went into a tailspin where the Broncos had no first downs in the third quarter.
“That was a big part of the game, the third quarter,” Wilson said. “We’ve got to be better in the third quarter.”
They finally found traction in the fourth quarter and trailed 24-21 when Patrick Surtain II’s interception of Zach Wilson at the Denver 3 gave Russell Wilson a chance to tie or win it.
They approached midfield as the clock ticked under a minute when Wilson was flushed from the pocket and linebacker Quincy Williams knocked the ball out from behind.
“Just trying to get something positive there,” Wilson said. “Obviously, it didn’t work out.”
Wilson tried to be his typical optimistic self after a game that led to boos from the crowd.
“I thought we did a lot of great things,” said Wilson, who threw for 196 yards and two scores. “We got in and out of the huddle, guys were making great plays.”
That, as he was alluding to, was in the first half. The second half was the version that got Hackett run out of town.
Wilson, who signed a five-year, $245 million extension before his first season in Denver, has shown flashes of solid play under Payton.
“I think we’ve played some really good ball,” Wilson said. “Just little mistakes that really do matter throughout the game. Game-altering plays that we can really be clean on.”
Like a muffed punt in the first quarter from Marvin Mims Jr. Or Samaje Perine’s lost fumble on a reverse at midfield. Both of those turnovers resulted in Jets field goals. All told, the Jets scored 13 points off a trio of takeaways.
“Tough to win a game like that,” Payton said. “No one’s going to hand it to you.”
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