EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Banged up, struggling and desperate for a win.
That describes both the Denver Broncos and New York Jets, who’ll square off Thursday night at MetLife Stadium with their seasons spiraling, coaches on the hot seat and rosters ravaged by injuries.
Yeah, this might not exactly be a meaty matchup for a prime-time TV audience. But, the results of this game could have intriguing consequences.
“We understand the situation we’re in,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. “We can’t change anything that’s happened. All we can do is look forward and prepare for our next game, which is coming here quickly on Thursday. I think our attitude is good.”
The Broncos and Jets are both 0-3 for the second straight season, and each is looking to avoid dropping their first four games in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history. Barring a tie, it’s about to get worse for one of them.
The woeful starts have made Fangio and Jets coach Adam Gase the targets of plenty of criticism and cast some doubts on their long-term futures with their teams. Speculation has been flying that Gase could be out as soon as Friday if the Jets lose.
“For me, I have to do a great job of making sure that I keep our players in the right headspace,” Gase said. “When a lot of negativity is coming at you and things are hard, that’s when everybody’s character has to really show up and they’ve got to go to work and we’ve got to get it fixed.”
That’s easier said than done, of course.
The Jets have been inept on offense, and Sam Darnold has not played like a quarterback on the verge of taking the next step in his third year. The defense has also been alarmingly porous. New York’s injury list is longer than a shopping receipt, with Le’Veon Bell, Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims among those sidelined.
The Broncos have had similar issues on all counts. Their roster sported a combined 18 Pro Bowls when the 53-man roster was finalized. Now, it has just Melvin Gordon’s pair of all-star appearances after Von Miller, Jurell Casey, Courtland Sutton, Phillip Lindsay and A.J. Bouye all got hurt.
They’re also about to start their third straight different quarterback. Brett Rypien will make his first NFL start, going Thursday night in place of the benched Jeff Driskel — who had taken the place last week of the injured Drew Lock.
“No matter who we’re playing, right now, we definitely need a win,” said Rypien, the nephew of 1992 Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien.
SAM THE MAN?
Darnold’s performance last week, when he threw three interceptions and had two returned for touchdowns at Indianapolis, has many wondering if he can be the franchise quarterback the Jets expected when they made him the No. 3 overall pick in 2018.
“He’s like everybody in this profession, he does not like to lose,” Gase said. “It just eats at him and I love the fact that it just drives him to just keep coming into the building and trying to find ways to improve. I can see it on his face after that last game, like he was (angry).
“He was not only mad at the score, but just kind of how it went down and things that he knows that he can do better and things that may have been out of his control that we’ve just got to move on from and we can’t hang on to. I think that’s what I love about him.”
WORLD OF HURT
The Broncos have lost six starters and three backups to IR, and that doesn’t even include Lock, whom they’re keeping on the active roster so he can attend practice and get mental reps.
The injured Broncos are making a combined $53.4 million this season, by far the highest IR payroll in the NFL and nearly $20 million more than the runner-up Dallas Cowboys at $33.5 million.
Fangio is 7-12 through his first 19 games, same as Gase’s record with the Jets. Fangio is the first of the Broncos’ 14 head coaches ever to post back-to-back winless Septembers.
The Broncos had just one winless September in the previous 48 years when Fangio hit all the red lights in starting 0-4 in 2019. Before that, the last Broncos head coach who went into October still searching for his first win was Wade Phillips in 1994.
It’s only three games and injuries have been a major reason, but New York’s offense has sputtered to start the season.
The Jets rank last in the NFL in total yards, scoring, yards passing yards, first downs and red-zone efficiency. They’re also second-to-last in total touchdowns, third-down conversions and yards per play.
The Broncos have allowed a whopping 13 sacks in the past two weeks, but it took Elijah Wilkinson’s shin injury to force a change up front.
Denver is inserting 12th-year veteran Demar Dotson into the right tackle spot. He joined the team in the summer but couldn’t unseat Wilkinson, who was coming off an offseason ankle operation.
“He’s probably played 10,000 snaps at right tackle in this league, so we feel good about putting him in there,” Fangio said. “He had a good camp with us.”
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Englewood, Colorado, contributed.
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