A pair of teams marred by injuries and searching for their first wins collided on Thursday. A back-and-forth game with plays good, bad, ugly and spectacular transpired. And when the rainy night ended, first-time starting QB Brett Rypien and the Denver Broncos staved off a comeback by the New York Jets for a 37-28 win. Highlighted by a pair of Rypien TD passes and his block to spring Melvin Gordon for a game-clinching score, the Broncos are now 1-3, while QB Sam Darnold and the Jets dropped to 0-4.
1) Though the Jets and Broncos each came into the evening winless while struggling to maintain hope or healthy bodies, it was Denver and a far more talent-rich roster that portends to escape its trying times. And when a soggy affair ended, it was the Broncos who had their first reason to celebrate and the Jets who emerged from another game with no sigh of relief or brief opportunity to hold their heads high. For the first time this season, the Jets held a lead in a game. But for the first time this season, the Broncos (1-3) had a victory, while the Jets (0-4) wander along winless still and wondering what tomorrow may bring. There is a giant difference between 1-3 and 0-4 and it's likely to be felt most on Friday morning. Two trying seasons converged on a Thursday night and the Broncos took the victorious path and they'll have easier grins and more comfortable aches when they arise. The Jets are left to answer all the same questions they had before. The Broncos got promising performances here and there and gave their fanbase something to cheer about during a trying campaign.
2) From blue-field brilliance to glory in Gotham. An undrafted free agent out of Boise State, Brett Rypien made his first NFL start and he's 1-0. Rypien showed his inexperience many a time and threw three big interceptions, including two in the fourth quarter that put the Jets back in the game (the biggest coming on Pierre Desir's second of the night, which he returned for six). But promise was shown and a win was had and that's more than good enough for a 24-year-old who became the third Broncos starting QB this season and the first to win a ballgame. Rypien threw one TD that was all about Jerry Jeudy and another that was a brilliant pass to Tim Patrick. He's a debuting UDFA QB who got the better of a team that had a former No. 3 overall pick and a Super Bowl MVP take snaps. Who knows when Drew Lock will return? And who knows what Rypien's future will hold? But on this night, Rypien was 19-for-31 with 242 yards, two scores, three picks and won his first professional start in his second pro game. Not a bad Thursday at all. Rypien will be rightfully chastised for his trio of interceptions, but he also played a vital role in Melvin Gordon (23 carries for 107 yards and two touchdowns) salting away the win with a 43-yard scoring run. Gordon found nothing right and came back left. Rypien was there and threw a downfield block that Gordon likely wouldn't have scored without. It was one of those blocks in which a veteran QB would draw cringes and shouts to avoid contact, but where a rookie just doing whatever he can to help will get a pat on the back. On a crazy night during a crazy season, Rypien was the right man for the job.
3) Juking, feigning slides, stumbling and bumbling, Sam Darnold opened the festivities with a 46-yard highlight-reel touchdown scramble. After shaking off a blitz, Darnold exposed some horrendous Broncos tackling while taking off on a stunning run that seemed even to surprise the USC product when he arrived at his six-point destination. It was the first lead of the Jets' season. But it foreshadowed no new or good New York fortune. Darnold was brutally slammed to the turf later in the half and left the game to get checked out. Darnold returned, but the Jets' offense is still missing. With an errant arm having troubled him across the first three weeks, Darnold's legs carried him to that first TD, but he was still off in the passing game. He was one of four quarterbacks to play in the first half (Jeff Driskel briefly went in for the Broncos and Joe Flacco relieved Darnold), but the former first-rounder hardly stood out from the bunch as someone of his pedigree should at this point. The opportunity initially provided by Darnold's fleet feet eventually settled into another loss as a 23-for-42 night passing in which he had 230 yards and no touchdowns wasn't enough for an elusive victory. Sam's shaky season carries on.
4) Though the Jets offense could hardly be called formidable, the Broncos defense, despite having lost a host of talent to injury, can still be a daunting unit. For that to have hope of happening, a comeback story needs to be written. Returning from a season-ending injury last year, Bradley Chubb (five tackles, five QB hits) announced his presence for the first time this year with his first 2.5 sacks. His last was his biggest as it came on fourth-and-3 from the 50 with the Broncos grasping a precarious two-point lead. On the ensuing play, Gordon broke loose to clinch it. Josey Jewell also turned in a terrific day with 10 tackles and a pair of sacks. The talent's still there for the Denver D.
5) When the first win of his team's season had concluded, Vic Fangio didn't celebrate. He hustled his team off the field. He told reporters it was because there were some personal fouls at the end of the game that upset his squad and he didn't want any extracurricular activities. Rypien was lambasted in the final plays of a two-score win by Jets defenders. The last was a helmet-to-helmet hit from Steve McClendon. It was with eight seconds left and Rypien trying to throw a deep ball on fourth down to run out the clock. There's hustle and effort and there's stupid and unnecessary. In all, the Jets defense racked up six personal fouls. Gregg Williams' act has grown stale. A team winless after four weeks doesn't need six personal fouls and, frankly, the league doesn't need this often-controversial defensive coordinator's approach.
6) Though first-round rookie Jeudy's brilliant leaping grab on a 48-yard first-quarter touchdown will be the A-block highlight, it was Tim Patrick who emerged with the biggest game and as the most valuable option for Rypien. Patrick turned in six catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. With Courtland Sutton out for the season and tight end Noah Fant and receiver K.J. Hamler having each been injured on Thursday, Patrick's emergence and potential is a welcomed sign. In his third season, it was Patrick's first 100-yard game. Daunting as injuries can be, they also open up opportunities. At least on this night, Patrick took advantage of his.
7) For a brief moment, it seemed as though Sam Ficken's name would be chanted through the New York night. It was a night of errant passers and clutch kickers. Ficken's final field goal was a 36-yarder with 2:15 to go that put the Jets up, 30-28. Unfortunately for Ficken, Brandon McManus followed with a 54-yard game-winner (though it was overshadowed by Gordon's TD). McManus had three field goals in as many tries along with four extra points. Ficken had a career-high five makes and one PAT. They were each perfect on an imperfect rainy night in Jersey. And with plenty of worries on each side, at the very least the kicking game was not one of them.