Melvin Gordon sealed the Denver Broncos’ first win of the season with a 43-yard touchdown run with 1:48 remaining, and the defense made just enough plays in the fourth quarter to beat the lowly — and still winless — New York Jets 37-28 on Thursday night.
Both teams came in looking to avoid starting 0-4 in consecutive seasons, but the Broncos (1-3) came out on top in a sloppy, penalty-filled but strangely entertaining game between two of the NFL’s worst teams.
On third-and-6 and the Jets leading by one, Quinnen Williams sacked Brett Rypien — but grabbed the quarterback’s helmet and prolonged the drive. Seven plays later, Brandon McManus kicked a 53-yard field goal to give Denver the lead at 30-28 with 3:08 remaining.
The Jets couldn’t do anything on their next possession, and Sam Darnold was sacked by Bradley Chubb on fourth-and-3 to give the Broncos the ball back at the 2-minute warning. Chubb had 2 1/2 sacks, and Denver finished with six.
Gordon ended New York’s chances with his long rumble that sent the Jets to consecutive 0-4 starts for the first time in franchise history. The heat on coach Adam Gase’s seat will surely be turned up even more after this latest embarrassment. New York was penalized 11 times, including six personal fouls.
The Jets were actually in position to win after Pierre Desir, having a rough game in coverage, redeemed himself a bit by picking off Rypien — whose arm was hit by Tarell Basham as he threw — and returning it 35 yards for a touchdown. Darnold’s pass into the end zone on the 2-point try was incomplete, leaving the Jets trailing by two at 27-25 with 10:45 remaining.
Brian Poole then intercepted Rypien, making his first NFL start, on the Broncos’ next possession, giving the Jets the ball at Denver’s 44. That led to Sam Ficken’s fifth field goal of the game, a 36-yarder that put New York ahead 28-27 with 6:28 remaining.
Rypien, the nephew of 1992 Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien, became the first quarterback to win his first start with three interceptions since San Francisco’s Jim Druckenmiller beat the St. Louis Rams 15-12 in 1997. Rypien finished 19 for 31 for 242 yards and two TDs.
Darnold gave the Jets their first lead of the season with a dazzling run that would make running back teammates Frank Gore and Le’Veon Bell proud.
Darnold wriggled out of a sack attempt by Alexander Johnson, took off up the middle, sidestepped Justin Simmons’ tackle try and then charged downfield. Kareem Jackson looked as if he thought Darnold was going to slide — but the quarterback stayed on his feet, faked Jackson and avoided another diving tackle attempt for a 46-yard touchdown that put New York up 7-0 with 3:35 into the game.
Darnold, whose run was the longest by a quarterback this season, flipped the ball over his shoulder and his teammates mobbed him.
McManus kicked a 40-yard field goal cut the Broncos’ deficit to 7-3 on their first drive, which was helped by a pass interference penalty on Bless Austin and a roughing the passer call on Basham.
Then came a scary moment for the Jets and Darnold.
Late in the first quarter, Darnold tried to avoid the rush and was slammed to the ground onto his right shoulder by Johnson, who didn’t let the quarterback get past him this time. Darnold handed off on the next play, then headed to the sideline and into the locker room — as the Jets and their fans watching on TV at home held their breath.
Joe Flacco, in his first game as New York’s backup, took over. Darnold was able to come back early in the second quarter on the Jets’ next series — and was promptly sacked again.
Rypien put the Broncos on top 10-7 with a 48-yard touchdown throw to Jerry Jeudy. The rookie wide receiver reached in front of Desir, snatched the football and then walked into the end zone for his first NFL TD.
That drive was kept alive by another defensive penalty when Williams was called for roughing the passer. Marcus Maye was also called for holding on the play, but the Broncos declined it. Rypien connected with Jeudy on the next play.
Desir picked off Rypien’s pass on the Broncos’ next possession, a play that was originally ruled the cornerback was out of bounds but reversed after a challenge by Jets Gase.
The Jets took advantage — eventually. Sam Ficken was wide left on a 46-yard try, but a personal foul penalty on Joseph Jones gave New York new life. Three plays later, Ficken was good on a 26-yarder to tie it.
Gordon’s 1-yard touchdown plunge with 1:37 left in the opening half gave Denver the lead again at 17-10.
Ficken had kicks of 38 and 32 yards to make it 17-16 early in the third quarter.
Rypien led a terrific 13-play drive that took nearly seven minutes, capping it with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Tim Patrick to put Denver up 24-16 with 4:31 left in the third quarter.
Broncos: WR KJ Hamler left with a hamstring injury. TE Noah Fant was carted off with an ankle injury in the third quarter.
Jets: LT Chuma Edoga left in the first quarter with a shoulder injury. He had started for Mekhi Becton, who had been questionable with a shoulder injury. Becton replaced Edoga, but also had to leave and was replaced by Conor McDermott. CB Bless Austin (calf) and WR Lawrence Cager (hamstring) also left with injuries.
Broncos: Hit the road again to take on Cam Newton and the New England Patriots on Oct. 11.
Jets: Host Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 11.