Jets' Breece Hall comes full circle in showing NFL world he's back

DENVER -- New York Jets running back Breece Hall walked into the visitor's locker room Sunday in Empower Field at Mile High and glanced into the trainers room. His eyes focused on the third table. It was there, on that table, where he received the devastating news last Oct. 23.

Doctors performed an examination of his left knee, determining the ACL was likely torn -- confirmed the next day by an MRI. Just like that, Hall's promising rookie year, when he rushed for 463 yards in seven games, was over and the Jets' season was never the same.

Upon his return to Denver on Sunday, Hall didn't pause for a long, reflective moment at the trainers room. "Honestly," he said later, "I was joking around about it." He saved his serious response for the field, unleashing a performance of speed and power that reminded everyone of how good he can be.

And the Jets' season may not be the same. This time, in a good way.

With Hall, who rushed for 177 yards on 22 attempts (both career highs) in a 31-21 win over the Denver Broncos, the Jets have an equalizer -- a weapon who can carry the offense on days when they miss Aaron Rodgers' leadership and expertise at quarterback. Sunday was one of those days.

Zach Wilson was serviceable in his fourth straight start, throwing for 199 yards, but the offense was 0-for-5 in the red zone against the NFL's 32nd-ranked scoring defense. Fortunately for the Jets (2-3), they had arguably the best player on the field.

"I'm new and improved now," Hall said, smiling. "I've got my robot knee, so I'm good."

When he's good, the Jets are good.

In 2022, the Jets were 5-2 with Hall in the lineup, including a 16-9 victory in Denver. In his injury-shortened outing, he rushed four times for 72 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown. A short time later, he went down with a non-contact injury.

Without Hall, the Jets lost eight of their final 10 games, sputtering to a 7-10 record.

When Hall produces like he did Sunday, the Jets believe they have the right formula to stay in contention -- strong defense (allowing 21 points a game), good rushing attack (123.2 yards per game). It's not as glitzy as it would've been with Rodgers, but they were forced to reinvent themselves in the aftermath of the quarterback's season-altering injury.

"It's phenomenal, it's truly an inspiration," center Connor McGovern said of Hall's comeback. "He battled. He worked his tail off all season and offseason to come back. For someone to go through an injury like that -- and as far as I see it, not miss a step, if not be better -- is phenomenal."

Playing for the first time without a snap-count limitation, Hall -- 11 months removed from major surgery -- proved he can handle a large workload. He played a season-high 34 snaps, relegating Dalvin Cook -- $7 million splurge in August -- to a bit player (10 snaps, six carries).

After five games, Hall already has 387 rushing yards (sixth in the NFL) on only 54 carries -- a staggering 7.2 average that ranks second among qualified runners. The Miami Dolphins' De'Von Achane is the leader at 12.1 yards per rush.

"He's kind of a deceptive runner," coach Robert Saleh said. "He's just so massive, it doesn't look like he's moving fast and you feel like you're tracking properly. Then, all of a sudden, you say, 'Oh, crap, where'd he go?'"

The Broncos experienced that feeling on Hall's 72-yard touchdown, a perfectly executed counter play in which he burst through a gaping hole untouched and hit a top speed of 21.5 mph, according to NFL Next Gen Stats tracking. It's the fifth-fastest carry by a running back in the league.

"You could've driven a semi-truck through that hole," Wilson said.

Hall was happy that offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett called a counter. Hall said he was "complaining all day," pleading for another counter. Hackett was reluctant because it hadn't been successful, but he finally relented. One more counter, he told Hall.

He made it count.

"People have been trying to say I'm not fast anymore," said Hall, who had no touchdowns through four games despite runs of 83 and 43 yards. "I'm like, 'I just need some space.'"

The offensive line blocked it perfectly, but now the line is an issue with right tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker missing the rest of the season with a torn Achilles. Max Mitchell likely will replace him Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, but they could reevaluate during their Week 7 bye. Left tackle Duane Brown (hip) will be eligible to come off injured reserve, meaning Mekhi Becton could be forced to return to right tackle, where he began the season.

One thing about Hall: He can make yards on his own, evidenced by this bloated stat: He has 179 rushing yards over expected, which ranks second in the league, per NFL Next Gen Stats.

"He's pretty good, isn't he?" Saleh said with a smile.