DENVER -- At 6:35 p.m. Thursday, Brett Rypien walked off the sideline into the rest of his life. He has been a star quarterback since he could pick up a football, starting every year in high school and college. But he went undrafted, and spent the past two seasons bunkered on the practice squad, cut twice.
But as he stood in the huddle at Met Life Stadium, the 24-year-old took a deep breath. He understood the significance of the moment, that this type of opportunity might never present itself again. He took over the Broncos offense, the ninth starter since Peyton Manning retired.
Roller-coaster Rypien looked equal parts tough, artistic and awful. But he survived, Bradley Chubb posted a defining sack and Melvin Gordon stepped on the Jets' throats with a 43-yard touchdown run to secure a 37-28 victory at Met Life Stadium.
"Winning cures more ills than penicillin," said Broncos coach Vic Fangio. "I am proud of this team."
The O-fer jokes are over. No Broncos team has started 0-5, and won't this year. Hey, you have to start somewhere. This game was to football what Sharknado is to movies. It was entertaining, embarrassing, and cringeworthy, but hard from which to avert your gaze.
There were huge mistakes, gaffes, and enough big plays, for once, from the Broncos. There were also 11 penalties on the Jets, including six personal fouls.
The ending "pissed off" the Broncos, leading Fangio to snub shaking hands with Jets coach Adam Gase to avoid an incident. With 1:03 remaining, the Broncos Rypien took a knee on back-to-back downs as Jets coach Gase burned timeouts. This is the same Gase who executed an onside kick in Miami three years ago while leading the Broncos by three scores. Bad blood exists between the sides.
At this point, however, the Broncos are not blameless. Trying to run out the clock, the Broncos passed on fourth-and-18 with 13 seconds left and again with eight seconds remaining, which ended with huge hits on Rypien.
There will likely be multiple fines on Jets players for helmet-to-helmet fouls. And Rypien became collateral damage.
In the end, the victory soothed the pain.
"It definitely kind of dragged out there at the end. It was a battle," said Rypien, who completed 19 of 31 passes for 242 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. "It was kind of my first introduction to, 'Wow this is what the NFL is like.' We had to fight for everything we got. Things didn't go right at times. A lot of things went wrong. I turned the ball over. Thankfully, we came out with a win."
Rypien let it Ryp, showing alarming accuracy on the initial drive. He had a perfect rating at one point. But playing QB in the NFL is like riding Space Mountain at Disneyland -- there are invisible dips and drops that make any stomach queasy. Roller coaster Rypien plummeted to earth with 3G force with two awful second-half interceptions, including a pick six.
But he took ownership and rebounded.
With the game hanging in the balance late in the fourth quarter, he connected with Tim Patrick for a 31-yard gain to the Jets' 22-yard line. Despite an intentional grounding call on Rypien, Brandon McManus never wavered. He split the uprights on a 53-yard field goal as the Broncos crawled ahead 30-28 with 3:13 remaining.
Yes, you have seen this movie before. The Broncos defense needed a stop. This team has been unable to finish for two years under Fangio, squandering games to the Bears, Jaguars, Colts and Titans. The Jets had a chance to respond and Chubb smashed Darnold. He finished with 2.5 sacks.
"It was huge," said Chubb of clinching the win. "Yeah I tore my ACL, but I’m past that. It does feel like a breakout when it comes to the injury, but now I gotta do it every week."
The problems for the Broncos, making it close, began when they were least expected. The Broncos held a 24-16 lead after Rypien produced the team's best drive of the season -- 13 plays, 75 yards -- and McManus drilled a field goal, giving the Broncos an 11-point fourth quarter advantage.
Rypien began unraveling. He made an unspeakably bad decision while facing pressure, floating a ball toward the sideline with no receiver in sight as he was fooled by the coverage. Pierre Desir, picked on most of the night, snatched the gift and raced into the end zone. The Broncos defense thwarted a two-point conversion as the Broncos gripped a 27-25 lead with Crisco coated fingers.
On the subsequent drive, Rypien flinched again, unleashing his third interception. The Jets eschewed going for it on fourth-and-short, and Ficken booted a 36-yarder to shove the Jets ahead 28-27 with 6:28 left.
The Broncos will look to make it two straight as heavy underdogs at New England. They need a better beginning.
Here's how not to start game when your season on brink: Let Darnold, not to be confused with Lamar Jackson, embarrass you with longest quarterback run of the season. Converting his third straight third down with his feet, Darnold slipped out of a tackle by a blitzing Alexander Johnson, juked safety Justin Simmons, shifted down as he prepared to get hit and no one was there.
The 46-yard scamper gave the Jets their first lead of the season. Yes, you read that correctly.
Rypien responded with an encouraging first drive. Relying on Gordon for 25 yards on the first three plays, Rypien went 4-for-4 on the methodical march. Aided by two penalties and undermined by one of their own, the Broncos settled for a 40-yard field goal by McManus.
That's when things got ugly. And weird. Johnson didn't miss this time, corralling Darnold and slamming him into the turf on sack, hurting his right shoulder.
The Broncos responded with their biggest highlight of season. Desir got Mossed by Broncos rookie Jerry Jeudy on a 48-yard touchdown. LeBron James tweeted about it.
"LeBron James shouted me out," Jeudy said. "It's a blessing."
How you reacted to the play depended on your viewing lens. If a Broncos fan, it was a moment that drove home why Denver drafted Jeudy with the 15th overall pick last spring. He jumped and snatched the ball from Desir and backpedaled into the end zone for a 48-yard touchdown, the first of his career. The Jets faithful saw it differently as the football hit Desir in the visor for a 10-7 Broncos lead.
He should have picked it off, and he didn't miss on his next attempt, showing toe drag swag on a second quarter interception of Rypien. It was ruled a catch upon review. Rypien need not watch the video to know he should have thrown the ball out of bounds.
The Jets tied the score in the second with the return of Darnold. As Denver's defense struggled to contain him, especially when scrambling. The Jets also benefited from a stupid penalty.
The Jets gifted the Broncos yards in the first half, including on two roughing penalties against Rypien and Alec Ogletree's after-the-whistle shove of Garett Bolles. The Broncos reciprocated as reserve linebacker Joe Jones smashed into the longsnapper turning a missed 46-yard field goal by Sam Ficken into a made 26-yarder a few plays later.
Tied at 10-all, Rypien showed composure after his first mistake, connecting on a 40-yard pass to Tim Patrick on a third-and-7. As promised, Fangio mixed in Jeff Driskel to run. He scurried for nine yards, and drew the Jets' fourth unnecessary roughness call, moving the ball to the 5-yard line. Gordon tumbled in from the 1-yard line for a score, shoving the Broncos ahead 17-10 with 1:37 remaining in the second quarter.
Rypien finished the half 9-for-11 for 141 yards and a score. Gordon finished the game with 107 yards on 23 carries.
The Broncos defense showed atypical aggression under Fangio, blitzing frequently. But they struggled to get off the field on third down for the second straight week, allowing New York to covert 6-of-11 in the half, which finished with a Ficken boot to shave the Broncos' lead to 17-13.
After a Broncos' three-and-out, the Jets continued to needle Broncos rookie cornerbacks. Michael Ojemudia was called for interference, a 38-yard gain that was an awful call upon review as it featured normal hand fighting. The Jets shaved the deficit one point with Ficken's third field goal.
Then, Rypien rolled up his sleeves.
He engineered the Broncos most impressive drive of the season. He guided a 13-play, 75-yard jaunt, converting third downs to Royce Freeman, Noah Fant, who was lost to an ankle injury in the third quarter, and a 8-yard touchdown to Patrick. The Broncos inflated their cushion to 24-16 with 4:31 left in the third quarter. A Brandon McManus 54-yard field goal followed. For a fleeting blink, the Broncos lead felt safe in the fourth.
"It’s amazing, to have 3 turnovers, the math on that, I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to win that game," Patrick said. "When the ball comes my way, I have to make a play, make my quarterback right."
Fangio did not commit to Rypien as the starter at New England, saying they have time to make a decision. But of the healthy quarterbacks -- Drew Lock likely will not return until Oct. 18 at the earliest -- he is undefeated.
In fact, Rypien is the first quarterback to win his first start with three picks since 1997. But it was a victory, and that is the only stat that matters.
The injuries continue for the Broncos. Promising tight end Noah Fant left the field on a cart in the third quarter after injuring his ankle. ...
Diontae Spencer delivered a 41-yard return at the end of the third quarter. ...
Here's what it has come to for Broncos. After injuries to Jurrell Casey and Dre'Mont Jones, the Broncos met veteran Timmy Jernigan on the tarmac to join the team and suit up for the game, according to the broadcast. ...
The Jets were penalized 10 times in the first half, eight accepted. ...
The Broncos three gameday captains were Kareem Jackson, Graham Glasgow and Brandon McManus.
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