DENVER — With the Broncos’ first Super Bowl championship team from 25 years ago looking on, the current Broncos were in such dire shape they were counting on backup quarterback Brett Rypien to salvage their season.
Brett let 'er Ryp, but not enough. With the Broncos' offense, two touchdowns in a game is too much to ask.
While Rypien played with fire, toughness and composure, the Broncos' offense again struggled to score and lost to the Jets, 16-9 before 70,786 fans (5,838 no-shows) on a spectacular, if windy, late-October Sunday afternoon at Empower Field at Mile High.
"I'm sick being up here saying the same thing over and over again,'' said Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett. "The opportunities are there. At some point we've got to take them. There's no excuses. We've been in every single game -- we've got to win these games.
"It's frustrating being up here having to say the same thing because like I said, those opportunities are there and we have to make them. It’s that simple. It’s the NFL. It's going to be hard. Especially close games which we've been in, you have to come through and win those games.”
PHOTOS | Broncos vs. Jets
This wasn't supposed to happen when in March the Broncos made the blockbuster trade with Seattle to acquire franchise quarterback Russell Wilson. In exchange, the Broncos surrendered two first-round draft picks, two second-round picks, two starting players in tight end Noah Fant and defensive lineman Shelby Harris and backup quarterback Drew Lock.
What was supposed to happen was the Broncos were supposed to end their five-season losing streak and six-year playoff drought. Instead, Wilson has struggled along with the rest of the Broncos offense, he missed the game against the Jets with a strained left hamstring, and the Broncos have now lost four in a row.
They will bring a 2-5 record to London for a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Wilson is on track to play, according to Hackett, but as was reinforced Sunday in another one-score loss, the problems run deeper than the quarterback.
Two days after their game in London the Broncos and the other 31 NFL teams will be working through the Nov. 1 trading deadline. The Broncos are certain to be sellers -- has it been mentioned they don't have a first- or second-round draft pick next spring? -- if they do anything at all.
A source confirmed to 9NEWS prior to the game Sunday the Broncos have received calls from teams interested in edge rusher Bradley Chubb, and receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, although the source denied those players were on the trading block.
That was before the Jets won their four straight, improving their record to 5-2, while the Broncos' slide continued.
"Yeah I heard about (the trade reports) but I'm just focused on trying to help my guys fight through this,'' Chubb said. "I know it's a business and anything can happen but all I care about right now is my guys and trying to get this thing turned around."
Rypien had two chances late to tie the game, but the Broncos came up empty. Both possessions ended on downs, the first at the Jets' 25 and the second at the visitors' 49.
Rypien took the snap from under center way more than the Broncos’ usual starting quarterback, Wilson, did through the first six games. The play-action opened up enough pass routes – and running holes – for the Broncos to take a 9-7 lead with 3:37 left in the first half.
The Jets had scored first on a 62-yard run around left end by rookie running back Breece Hall -- who later suffered a knee injury that appears to be a season-ending ACL tear -- and scored last in the half on a 45-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein as time expired for a 10-9 Jets lead.
Zuerlein added two more field goals in the fourth quarter to bump the score to 16-9. And there it stood despite the Broncos have two possessions in the final 4:35 and came up scoreless both times.
The halftime show honored about 30 players from Denver’s Super Bowl 32 team -- including John Elway, Gary Zimmerman, Shannon Sharpe, Terrell Davis, Rod Smith and Bill Romanowski, plus coach Mike Shanahan -- that captured the franchise’s first championship in 1997.
By day's end, 25 years seemed so long ago.
Rypien did some good things and finished 24 of 46 for 225 yards. But a second-half interception led to a Jets' field goal and for the sixth time in seven games the Broncos were held to one touchdown or less.
“I don't know if there's desperation, but I think everybody in our locker room feels the urgency to get better,'' Rypien said. "That starts with every single guy looking at themselves in the mirror and figuring out what I can do to help this offense and help this team because when your defense is playing as well as our defense is, you shouldn't be losing games.
"That's just point-blank, period, a fact. We have to figure out what we can do to turn this thing around because I still think we have a good team. We have to figure out what are our best plays on offense. Everybody has to be on the same page as far as what we’re trying to do, how we're trying to attack defenses, go into each week and have conviction and a plan.”
With fourth-and-3 at the Jets' 25-yard line and exactly 2 minutes remaining, Rypien threw a go route to Courtland Sutton in the end zone. Sutton had his hands on the ball but it was knocked out by Jets' superb rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner.
“I like a one-on-one matchup with Courtland with inside leverage, press coverage,'' Rypien said. "That's kind of what we talked about on the sideline is that was the look we were going to get and that's a great opportunity to throw a go-ball or possibly get a pass interference.
"Did I put it in a perfect spot? Probably not, but at the end of the day, we have to find—myself and our offense have to find a way to make more plays.”
Said Hackett: “We knew we were going get some form man coverage from them. So, we had man beater on. We ended up having a matchup with Courtland Sutton, one of our best players, and we wanted to take a chance at that one. So, because of the way they played everything on the inside, Ryp decided to go to him, and we had, again, another opportunity there. We have to fight for it and get it.
"I don't mind that decision by Ryp because it's Courtland Sutton. We always want to give him an option to go up and get it.”
Aside from the explosive long run by Hall in the first quarter, blame cannot be directed at the Denver defense. It allowed just the Jets a meager 10 first downs and held the opponent to 16 points or less for the sixth time this season. Yet, five times the Denver D hasn't been able to overcome its inept offense.
“It hard, but nobody cares,'' said safety Justin Simmons. "We get paid to go out here and find a way to win games. There are no poor me’s. Nobody cares how you feel, what you are feeling or what you are going through. You just have to win at the end of the day. We understand that. There are no pity parties about that.''
Rypien did have big completions to receiver Jerry Jeudy on each of the Broncos’ two scoring drives.
A 17-yard strike to Jeudy just inside the left sideline converted a third-and-10 and set up first and goal at the Jets’ 6 in the first quarter. Struggling like no other team in goal-to-go situations, Hackett called for two running plays to Latavius Murray, who gained 4 and 2 yards for a touchdown with 1:33 left in the first quarter.
That would have tied the score but kicker Brandon McManus, who had a tough start, missed the extra point wide right. McManus also missed a 56-yard field goal attempt in which the wind took the flight of his ball from left middle of the goal posts to wide right.
When McManus put the Broncos ahead late in the second quarter with a 44-yard field goal, it was Rypien’s 45-yard completion to Jeudy that got the Broncos out of a hole and into plus territory.
Rypien was starting ahead of Wilson, who was out with a left hamstring strain. Wilson threw passes before the game and looked much better than he did during the week. He seems to be on track to play next Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London.
The Denver D got burned for one long running play but otherwise held Jets’ second-year quarterback Zach Wilson to just 121 yards passing while he was sacked twice by defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones.
Jeudy had the big offensive half and finished with 7 catches for 96 yards. But once again, the Broncos struggled to maintain a consistent running back as their top ball carries, Melvin Gordon III and Murray, combined for just 57 yards of 19 carries, 3.0 yards per attempt.
“It's the same feeling and you know that it's there. Frustration. Disappointment. Anger. Sadness. All of the above,'' Sutton said. "It's on us to legit lock-in figure out what the issues are. As coach keeps saying, you have to look within every single person. Every single person has to look within and figure out what they—what we can do better to be able to eliminate this feeling and get on the other side of this. It's so frustrating to have to come in and have these same conversations in these one-possession, two-possession games. We know that we're right there. We know we can go out there and win. It's on us to execute for four quarters and make the system win.”
Running back Mike Boone had a key, 15-yard run on the Broncos' first touchdown drive but left later in the first half with a right ankle injury and didn't return. X-rays were negative but more will be determined after he undergoes an MRI exam Monday morning. Boone left the locker room with a boot around his right foot and crutch under his left arm.
Outside linebacker Baron Browning left the game in the second half with a strained hip flexor, according to a source. He will have an MRI exam Monday morning.
Offensive tackle Cam Fleming, getting the start on the left side, left the game in the fourth quarter with a quad injury. He left the locker room wearing a huge brace around his leg.
All the Broncos needed to cure their penalty problem was get referee Bill Vinovich to call their game. The Broncos entered play Sunday with a league-most 54 penalties for 486 yards. Vinovich called the fewest penalties in 2021 and has by far the fewest in 2022.
Against the Jets, Broncos were penalized just four times for 34 yards.
The Broncos take off for London on Monday afternoon with an arrival Tuesday morning. The team will then practice in London starting Wednesday and the rest of the week leading into their game Sunday against the Jags. Both teams are 2-5 but the Jaguars are 4 1/2-point favorites.
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