It wasn't pretty but it was pretty sweet. The Jets' hardscrabble 16-9 win over the Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High today, that is.
The Zach Wilson-led Jets offense gained 260 yards and only 10 first downs and lost three players — rookie RB Breece Hall, versatile RT Alijah Vera-Tucker and WR Corey Davis — to first-half injuries. Their defense made any number of plays but still had trouble most of the way getting pressure on Brett Rypien, the Denver backup QB who stepped in for Russell Wilson, a late scratch with his sore hamstring.
But with Hall's early 62-yard TD run before his knee injury plus three Greg Zuerlein field goals for the offense and nine pass defenses overall, with corners Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed notching three PDs apiece, the Green & White prevailed.
The victory was in doubt most of the way against the Broncos' strong defense but the Jets still cashed it in at the end to improve their record to 5-2, their best record after seven games since opening 2010 at 5-2, their road record to 4-0 for the first time since 2010, and their win streak to four games for the first time since 2015.
The Jets came out for the second half with a 10-9 lead on minimal offense, and then the teams played 15 scoreless minutes, in keeping with their recent reputation as two of the lowest-scoring third-quarter NFL teams through six weeks.
But with 1:24 left in the third quarter, the Jets took advantage of the game's first turnover. The TO was coaxed out of Rypien's hand on Quinnen Williams' up-the-gut pressure, followed by an errant pass that was plucked out of the air by S Lamarcus Joyner for his third pick of the season and the Jets' eighth and returned to the Broncos 37.
Wilson could move the offense only 21 yards, but Zuerlein drove his second field goal of the game, this one from 33 yards out, for a 13-9 edge with 12:49 to play.
The Broncos couldn't score but weren't going away. So the Green & White's sputtery offense needed to move close for at least another Zuerlein field goal. They got the "close" part when WR Braxton Berrios drew a 20-yard pass interference penalty on third-and-18 to get the Jets to the Denver 31. Three plays later, it was Zuerlein again, this time from 40 yards out, for a 16-9 lead with 4:35 remaining.
The home team had another opportunity, maybe two series to try to tie the score. The Broncos moved to the Jets 25 at the two-minute warning, where on fourth-and-3 Rypien went for the 25-yard TD strike. He didn't get it because Gardner was all over WR Courtland Sutton for the incompletion.
The Wilson offense was in run mode and didn't gain a first down, so punter Braden Mann came on and lasered a 72-yard punt into the far end zone. It was a touchback, his third of the day, but it put Denver in desperation mode, having 1:30 on the clock, no timeouts and 80 yards to go for the tying TD and extra point.
They got to the Jets 49 but Rypien ran out of any magic he had in his 2020 win at MetLife over the Jets and for most of this game. His downfield throw for WR was deflected by Reed — right into the hands of diving LB C.J. Mosley. But ref Bill Viinovich, after a long replay review, was ruled incomplete. But on fourth down, Rypien let it fly for WR KJ Hamler, who fell down while the Jets nearly intercepted the pass again. But the incompletion was enough and the Jets had finally prevailed a mile high.
See the best images from the road victory in Denver.
First 30 Minutes: A Rock Fight
Wilson and the Jets got off to a sluggish start with a pair of 3-and-out series while Rypien and the Broncos didn't fare much better. On their second drive, Rypien's play-action WR screen didn't fare well when Jerry Jeudy had to leap for the throw almost parallel to the line and was immediately crushed by Reed. The Broncos also punted twice.
Then midway through the opening frame, the Jets Breece-d to the game's first score, on a toss from Wilson to Hall, who cruised around left end and knifed his way 62 yards to the TD. It was the second-longest run by a Jets rookie, behind Elijah McGuire's 69-yard dash vs. Jacksonville in 2017, and thus the longest by a Jets rookie on the road all-time.
As the half unfolded, CBS broadcaster Ian Eagle described what was ahead accurately when he said, "We might be in for a rock fight today."
Denver rocked out on their next drive with a 13-play, 75-yard march to Latavius Murray's 2-yard TD with 1:33 left in the quarter. However, Brandon McManus missed the extra point so the Jets maintained their 7-6 lead on into the second quarter, marking the first lead after one quarter that the Jets have held in their last 10 games at Denver dating to 1992.
The Jets also hung on to their lead when McManus, the reliable long-legged kicker hit a 56-yard drive from left to wide right. But McManus got another shot, from 44 yards out with 3:37 to play in the half. This one knifed through the 25-mph gusts at Empower Field and through the uprights to put the Broncos ahead for the first time, 9-7.
But Wilson and the Jets, outgained by 178 yards to 80 through the first 26½ minutes of the game, had those three-plus minutes plus three timeouts to answer with a score right before halftime. Wilson gave a matador move to get past a Bronco defender for an 18-yard run to convert third-and-8. That helped position the visitors for Zuerlein's first field goal try in the thin and windy mile-high air. He drilled it down the middle for 45 yards and a 10-9 lead on the last play of the half.