DENVER (AP) — For once, Nathaniel Hackett relished Russell Wilson’s mistakes and basked in the boos raining down from the stands in Denver.
The former Broncos head coach and current Jets offensive coordinator was showered with hugs and handshakes from New York’s players and staff Sunday after beating the Broncos 31-21 in his much-anticipated return.
They won behind Breece Hall’s 72-yard touchdown run and Bryce Hall’s 39-yard game-sealing scoop-and-score after Quincy Williams’ second sack of the day, but it was Hackett who was presented with a game ball afterward.
“You know, it feels good to get a win in the league against anybody,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. ”But it was a special game for Hack, obviously, being here a year ago. We racked up over 400 yards on them, put up 31 points.”
Hackett’s return took on the feel of a grudge match after Payton criticized him and his staff for the job they did last year in Denver, where he went 4-11 and was fired, particularly the way he handled Wilson during the QB’s dismal 2022 season.
“It was good, to be honest. Mostly for Coach Hackett, I wasn’t really worried about myself today,” said Breece Hall, whose long touchdown run on the Jets’ second snap of the second half gave them the lead for good. “He stayed quiet, he stayed humble, respectful. So we wanted to come in and get a win today for him and we did that.
“Better coach, better team, won.”
The Jets (2-3) overcame a sloppy, chippy first half to snap a three-game skid and hand the Broncos (1-4) their third home loss in three tries under Payton, who drew widespread criticism for excoriating Hackett and also throwing shade at the Jets in an interview with USA Today in July.
Payton deflected questions about the brouhaha all week and again in his terse postgame news conference.
“It’s a fair question, but I think we already addressed that the next day. All right, thank you guys,” Payton said just before leaving the podium.
After the game, the Jets took their own swipe at Payton in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter: “when you lose to the ‘offseason champs’” — including a photo of comedian Kevin James, who portrayed Payton in a Netflix movie.
Although Wilson has mostly returned to form under Payton’s tutelage, the Broncos are plagued by many of the same problems for which Payton blasted Hackett, and in the second half, the boobirds got as loud as they ever did last year.
The Broncos went three and out on four of their first five drives after halftime and the other possession resulted in a lost fumble on the second snap.
Then, Wilson led the Broncos to a touchdown and 2-point conversion to make it 24-21 late in the fourth quarter. Patrick Surtain II’s interception of Zach Wilson’s pass to Garrett Wilson gave the Broncos the ball back at their 3 with 2:14 left.
“Big-time players gotta make big-time plays,” Surtain said, adding he felt the Broncos “had a tremendous amount of momentum going into that drive.”
The Broncos were moving toward in field goal range when Williams collected his second sack. The ball popped loose toward the Jets sideline and Bryce Hall left the receiver he was covering, scooped up the bouncing ball and sealed it with his touchdown return.
A frustrated Payton, who watched his offense produce a net 18-yard loss on its first five second-half drives, angrily addressed his quarterback as Wilson retreated to the sideline, having gone 20 of 31 for 196 yards and two TDs with four sacks.
Russell Wilson is now 5-14 as Denver’s starting quarterback after posting a 104-53-1 mark in Seattle.
Hall ran for 177 yards on 22 carries Sunday, a whopping 8 yards per carry. It was nearly a year ago when Breece Hall’s promising rookie season ended at this very stadium when he blew out his left knee after scampering for a 62-yard score.
Zach Wilson, making his fourth straight start in place of the injured Aaron Rodgers, was 19 of 26 for 199 yards and the interception.
He, too, was happiest for Hackett.
“You could see the emotion on his face a little bit,” Wilson said. “He was trying not to show it, but we all gave him big hugs. We told him we love him and we’re grateful to have him. Obviously, how things went for him this past year was tough. So you know it means a lot.”
Jets: RT Alijah Vera-Tucker left with a calf injury in the second half. “It’s a concern for sure,” Saleh said. When asked if it’s an Achilles tendon injury, Saleh said the Jets need to wait for the results of exams. Vera-Tucker was lost for the season last year in Denver when he tore a triceps.
Broncos: NT D.J. Jones injured a knee in the second quarter.
Jets: play the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday.
Broncos: visit the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night.
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