Jets head coach Robert Saleh summed up Sunday's up-and-down 31-21 victory over the host Denver Broncos on Sunday in six simple words: "It was gritty, it wasn't pretty."
To be fair, there were certainly moments when it was gritty. And certainly moments when it was pretty.
In the end, it was "game-wrecker" Quincy Williams (9 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 TFL, 3 QB hits) helping to seal the victory when he tracked down a scrambling Russell Wilson and forced a fumble. Bryce Hall, playing for the injured D.J. Reed (concussion) scooped up the ball near the sideline and raced 32 yards to ice the game with 29 seconds left and push the Jets' record to 2-3 ahead of Sunday's meeting against visiting Philadelphia.
"We all have tremendous faith in Bryce," DL Jermaine Johnson (sack, TFL and QB hit) said after the game. "He told us before the game, 'I got you all, I'm going to do my job. And he did just that."
For the Green & White, it was the first 30 minutes of the game that would qualify as the "not pretty" part of the afternoon played in bright sunshine in the Mile High city. The Jets were 0 of 5 on third downs, had to settle for two Greg Zuerlein field goals (30 and 36 yards) and recorded their second safety in as many games when R.Wilson was called for grounding the ball while under pressure and trying to pass out of the end zone. Still, they ended the half trailing by only 5 points, 13-8, but it didn't have to be that way. The first field goal and the safety were the Jets' first points in the first quarter through five games.
With a bit less than 6 minutes left in the half, Jets QB Zach Wilson took the offense on a 9-play, 67-yard drive to the Broncos' 13-yard line with a first down and 8 seconds on the clock and no timeouts remaining. Wilson connected on a short pass in the left flat to C.J. Uzomah, but the offense could not get set for a spike before time expired.
"I need to be better, I knew the situation," Z.Wilson said. "If he was inbounds, I knew I'd have to clock it. It was frustrating. I wanted to take a shot in the end zone, but I felt that he was so open I'd give him a chance to run it in. But he had no shot. I should have sailed it over his head and let Z [Zuerlein] kick the field goal. I have to be better and could have helped if I threw it out of bounds."
Though Saleh said the first half was "sloppy," (6 penalties for 45 yards, 0 of 3 in the red zone, and 68 yards passing), the Jets were in the game.
"It was an O-Zone situation," Saleh said of the final play of the half, meaning it was to either be thrown out of bounds or into the end zone. "We just got to be better." He added: "We have to be better in the red zone [0 of 5 in the game]. We probably could have blown that team out in the first half. But we were better in the second half."
On Sunday, Z.Wilson did just enough and was good enough when it counted.
See the best game action photos during Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos.
Here's where the "gritty" comes in.
After the defense sent the Broncos three-and-out to start the second half, it took seconds for RB Breece Hall to turn the game on its head. As JetsNation knows all too well, last season's trip to Denver cost the Green & White two key players on offense: Hall who tore an ACL and Alijah Vera-Tucker, who sustained a torn triceps-- ending both their seasons. (On Sunday, in the first half AVT left the field injured and did not return.)
Hall took a first-down handoff from Z.Wilson, cut behind Laken Tomlinson's pancake block and raced 72 yards for a touchdown. Hall was the ace in the hole for offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who buried any notion of a "pitch count" by giving Hall the ball 22 times for 177 yards (8.0 per carry) and the TD.
"Dude is a stud," Z.Wilson said. "I gave him the ball, turned around and you could have driven a semi through that hole."
In games this season against Buffalo (83 yards) and last week against Kansas City (43 yards), Hall came close to breaking off long TD runs. But on this afternoon, he used his speed to stampede Broncos defenders.
"He's pretty good," Saleh said. "It was good to see him take it to the house. He's kind of deceptive. He is so massive [5-11, 220], it doesn't seem like he's moving that fast."
Hall's TD opened a 16-0 run by the Jets, which ended with 7:27 left in the game, and also allowed the defensive line to smell blood in the water and tee off on R.Wilson and the tiring Denver offensive line. Saleh said small tweaks were made to the approach at halftime.
"Again credit to Brick [DC Jeff Ulbrich] and those guys [the defense]," Saleh said. "In the first half, I thought there were some self-inflicted wounds and Russell was scrambling. We made a bit of an adjustment, keeping an eye out for him. The defense was outstanding, gritty. It was gritty, it wasn't pretty. But we got a lot we got to improve on. I'm proud of the way the guys fought."
And they had to fight until the end because a late Jets drive that would have sealed the victory was derailed at Denver's 3-yard line -- the red zone again -- when Z.Wilson's (19 of 26, 199 yards) pass intended for Garrett Wilson (3 catches, 54 yards) was intercepted by Patrick Surtain with 2:21 to play. The INT, the first in more than 100 passes by Wilson, followed a nice 38-yard third-down pass from Z.Wilson to Tyler Conklin (a team-leading 4 catches for 67 yards).
Cue the "gritty/pretty' one more time ... Quincy Williams' forced fumble, the other Hall, Bryce, picks it up and runs in for the game's final score.
"It always feels good to win in this league," Saleh said. "It was a special game for [OC Nathaniel Hackett]Hack, having been here a year ago. We wrapped up 400 yards and 31 points. I'm happy for him."