ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The summer blockbuster has turned into a bit of a ho-hum fall rerun.
That’s a long way from Broncos coach Sean Payton’s verbal takedown of former Broncos coach and current Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, as well as Payton’s criticisms of how the Jets handled Aaron Rodgers' arrival earlier this year.
Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson’s assessment of it all this week was: "We're focused on playing really a good defense ... it's always about the white lines, 100 yards, 53 1/2 (yards wide) and playing a great football game.''
Not exactly what it all may have looked like in August when Payton, in an interview with USA Today’s Jarrett Bell, called Hackett’s 15-game run with the Broncos “one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL’’ and said there were “20 dirty hands’’ involved in Wilson’s career-worst season that included just 16 touchdown passes and a league-high 55 sacks.
Two days later, Payton said he regretted the comments, as he added “I need to have more of a filter.’’ At the time Payton said he intended to reach out to Jets coach Robert Saleh and Hackett as well.
But with Rodgers’ Achilles tear four plays into his Jets career to go with Zach Wilson’s struggles at times to replace him behind center, the Jets are trying to save a season that started with so much hope. Meanwhile, the Broncos’ dismal start to the season has already included a historical 70-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Sunday’s game is now two teams simply trying to regain a sliver of the preseason optimism.
Payton said after the Broncos’ 31-28 comeback victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday -- the Broncos trailed 28-7 with just over four minutes remaining in the third quarter -- that he was ready to “dive into the whole Jets fiasco stuff. You guys will be busy.’’
By Monday he said he had “already addressed’’ it with the fiasco comment and that the Jets had “obviously gone through an injury at quarterback. They’re playing outstanding in the kicking game and on defense … This is a good football team. You can see it on tape; you can see it when you watch them play. That’s where our focus will be this week.’’
Saleh's also put it in the rearview mirror but acknowledged things might be different for Hackett.
“From a coach’s perspective, aside from the summer from whatever was said back in training camp -- in football life, that was like 20 years ago, so that is a non-topic. But for Hackett, obviously, it is going to be a personal feel to go back, but I think he understands just living as a coach’s kid, understanding the process, he will know how to handle himself, he will know exactly how to keep his emotions in check."
Zach Wilson’s improved showing this past Sunday night against the Kansas City Chiefs (245 yards passing, two touchdowns, no interceptions) not withstanding, Hackett's offense is still tied for 25th in the league in scoring as one of five teams averaging 15.5 points per game. New York is 31st in passing offense, 30th in total offense and last in the league on third down.
However, running back Breece Hall, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Broncos in the teams' Oct. 23 game last year, will have no restrictions in the New York offense this week. Hall had a 62-yard touchdown run against the Broncos last year before he was injured and the Broncos are currently last in the league in several major statistical categories on defense, including run defense.
Denver has allowed 176 yards rushing per game and has surrendered 350 yards rushing and 171 yards rushing in the last two games to the Dolphins and Bears, respectively.
“I still see the same running back on tape I was getting ready to play last year,’’ Broncos safety Justin Simmons said. “He had that unfortunate injury [last year], but man he’s firing on all cylinders … he looks good.’’
The cameras will likely find Hackett, Saleh and Payton throughout the day, and history will likely be reviewed. But Payton has done what he can to remain focused as two wobbly teams now just hope to make it right.
“Typically, when we’re preparing our players, it’s a game you always play with emotion,’’ Payton said. “Relative to me (this week), I mean, shoot, I’m up there with candles burning, looking at film, and I’m dealing with these problems that you’re talking about right now. The corner, the tackle, the mike linebacker. Those are the immediate challenges, and that’s right where it’s at.’’