A proverbial battle of attrition opens up Week 4 of NFL action as two teams hit by a slew of notable injuries clash.
The Denver Broncos (0-3) will face the host New York Jets (0-3) at 8:20 p.m. ET from MetLife Stadium in the latest installment of Thursday Night Football in a game airing exclusively on NFL Network.
As each team has struggled into Thursday, they do so limping with injuries in abundance and victories thus far eluding them.
Von Miller, Drew Lock, Courtland Sutton and Jurrell Casey are among those whose ailments have hindered the Broncos, while Le'Veon Bell, Denzel Mims, Avery Williamson, Jamison Crowder and Breshad Perriman are some of the Jets who have missed time. It's been a rough start for both squads, but coaches Vic Fangio and Adam Gase will lead their squads into the night knowing win No. 1 is 60 minutes of football away.
Here's what to watch for on Thursday night:
Looking for the real Sam Darnold to stand up
Winless records and any negative tone that accompany the lead-up to this game aside, this is a big night for Sam Darnold and a huge opportunity. For all the injuries and questioning of the talent surrounding him, Darnold needs to stand tall and succeed despite the obstacles. After all, he's been struggling perhaps more so than at any point in his young career. As the former No. 3 pick's third season continues to unfold in unfortunate fashion, the USC product must reaffirm that he is the Jets' franchise quarterback of the future for good reason, not just because he's been anointed as such. Thus far, Darnold's season-best has been 215 passing yards in Week 1. He hasn't eclipsed 200 yards, is averaging an NFL-low 187.3 yards a contest and has yet to toss multiple scores in a game, entering Thursday with three touchdowns to four interceptions. Three of those picks came in a woeful 36-7 loss to the Colts on Sunday in which he had a 47.0 QB rating. Sure, there are plenty of reasons for any Darnold struggles, and good ones at that, from a porous offensive line to a nondescript receiver corps, each of them cobbled together with the warmest bodies available. But stars shine in dark skies. On Thursday, the Jets won't be the only team on the field ravaged by injuries, but Darnold will be the most high-profile player under the lights. It's the perfect time for him to shine and it's getting to be past the time when he should.
A new change for a new Broncos starting QB
This was supposed to be the season in which Drew Lock finally answered the Broncos' lingering quandary of who their next franchise QB would be. Then he got injured. Then again, this was supposed to be the season in which Denver turned its fate and became a playoff contender again. Then, well, seemingly everybody got injured. And now Thursday presents itself, and so does Rypien as the newest and next starting QB for Broncos. Lock was lucky No. 7 since Denver won the Super Bowl with some Manning guy at the helm. Jeff Driskel was No. 8 and now Rypien is No. 9 -- and No. 3 for this tumultuous season. The 24-year-old Rypien is an undrafted free agent out of Boise State. Lock is expected back sometime this season, and the nephew of a former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player is seen an interim starter. But who knows? This is a crazy season all by itself, but football's always been a crazy sport. Many people view the greatest quarterback of all-time to be a former sixth-round pick. Kurt Warner and Warren Moon have busts in Canton and they too were undrafted. Cinderella stories have to start somewhere, and who knows? Maybe Rypien's starts on this night. Perhaps it's too romantic, but for everyone who tunes in to games for fantasy implications and to see superstars at play, every week there are that many more guys leaving it out on the field, competing for their jobs and vying for victory no matter how much the dude sitting on the couch is invested or not. On this particular Thursday, Rypien, who has all of nine attempts to his pro career and wasn't even drafted, will make his first start and will do so in prime time. That's not a bad story at all.
Does Adam Gase need a win to stay employed?
It certainly doesn't seem to be all that novel a development that Jets coach Adam Gase is on the hot seat. Alas, right about now it's a scorching hot chair he's sitting in. Off to an 0-3 start for the second straight season and looking to avoid a second consecutive 0-4 record, Gase (7-12 with New York so far) and the Jets' prospects for this season seem already lost as the team is seemingly lost in a nightmare in which it's always lagging behind and can never get ahead. Entering Thursday, the Jets are dead last in the NFL in points per game (12.3) and point differential (-57). Victories and some semblance of hope and/or improvement are in need -- though that's nothing new unfortunately for the Gang Green faithful. Adam Gase watch is most certainly on and Thursday night's outcome might well be a determining factor in whether the Jets are the first NFL club to make a head-coaching switch during a 2020 season that's welcomed any and all kinds of chaos.
Plenty of overlooked, underrated Broncos talent
As notable Broncos have been lost to injury, a new name on the defense has emerged as a standout amid all the defeats. Shelby Harris garnered a starting role last year with Denver and thus far in 2020 has made the most of it. Harris is coming off a two-sack performance in the team's Week 3 loss to the Buccaneers. It's borderline ridiculous how many talented players the Broncos have lost to injury, but they still have more than a few remaining, though perhaps overlooked. Harris is one and Justin Simmons, though he's struggled a bit thus far, remains one of the best young safeties in the league. Phillip Lindsay (toe) is looking to come back from an ailment and join Melvin Gordon as the terrific tandem in the backfield that appeared promising weeks ago. The much-maligned Garett Bolles is having an excellent season so far on the offensive line. Bradley Chubb has been quiet in his return from a 2019-ending injury, but as talented as he is, he won't stay down for long. Rookie receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler are likewise brimming with potential and Noah Fant, though he drastically needs to improve his blocking, has emerged as an excellent pass-catching threat at tight end. The Broncos are hurting in a big way, but their cupboard is far from bare and those who remain have hardly flown the white flag.