It’s infuriating the Broncos don’t know how to win, but what’s far worse is how a once-proud NFL franchise doesn’t even know how to act in defeat.
While bad football happens, a team with bad football character starts at the top, and coach Sean Payton is responsible for losers in the Denver locker room that duck and run when the going gets tough.
After a wretched 31-21 loss to the New York Jets, during which the Broncos forgot how to tackle and could not hold onto the football, much less the lead, Payton stood in account for only 4 minutes and 42 seconds during his postgame news conference before spinning on his heels and bolting from the podium.
“Thank you, guys,” Payton told media members, before ducking for cover, much the way a bully does when challenged.
Sorry, Mr. Payton. But that doesn’t cut it in Broncos Country, where losses can’t be brushed off by a coach who came to Denver and immediately put everybody involved with the franchise on blast.
Like everything that stinks, bad character rolls downhill.
Captain Courtland Sutton, almost entirely ignored in the passing game of an offense that went backwards for much of a disastrous second half, said he would talk when finished dressing, then slipped out of the locker room without a peep.
And captain Kareem Jackson, whose futile wave at Breece Hall was as close as any Denver defender came to touching the Jets running back on a 72-yard touchdown run that put New York ahead to stay in the third quarter, had to be prodded by a member of the Broncos public relations staff before reluctantly taking account for a unit that surrendered an average of 219 yards rushing over the course of the past four games.
“We played a good first half and played like (crap) the second half,” said Jackson, singing the sad chorus of a Denver team that has blown halftime leads in all three of its home losses to the Raiders, Commanders and Jets.
Habitual collapse against weak NFL opposition is the definition of bad coaching.
The CU Buffs have Coach Prime. Are the Broncos stuck with Coach Past His Prime?
The fire in the Jets’ eyes during this victory, which dropped the Broncos’ to 1-4 and will mean high anxiety for Denver players until the NFL trade deadline on Oct. 31, was fueled by the loud mouth of Patyon.
Prior to kickoff, tight end C.J. Uzomah gathered his New York teammates in the end zone of Empower Field, cursing Payton for making this game “personal” by taking a dig at the Jets and blasting former Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett for “one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL.”
“Let’s win this (bleep) for Hackett,” bellowed Uzomah, screaming support for Hackett, now offensive coordinator for the Jets.
After quarterback Russell Wilson fumbled with the Broncos driving for the tying field goal late in the fourth quarter, and New York cornerback Bryce Hall scooped up the turnover and returned it 39 yards for a game-clinching touchdown, the Jets playfully doused Hackett with cups of water on the visitors sideline, then wrapped him in hugs.
The Jets rolled into our dusty old cowtown, itching for a fight and seeking vengeance.
“I don’t think it made a difference. That was offseason talk,” Jackson said. “At the end of the day, regardless of what was said, you can say whatever, we’ve still got to go out and play.”
Payton upped the ante by making it personal, and when the Jets called his bluff, the Broncos folded, coughing up the 13-8 lead they took into halftime.
During his brief, regrettable tenure on the Denver sideline, we all saw that Hackett couldn’t manage the clock or his nerves. But at least he took the heat, and even in the worst times, treated people with respect.
At age 59, Payton is too old to act like a spoiled brat.
“I have to do a better job,” Payton said. “It starts with me.”
This is the coach who told us he would be ticked off if the Broncos didn’t make the playoffs. But Payton is also the coach who couldn’t figure out how to beat quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo, Sam Howell or Zach Wilson on Denver’s home field.
“We really should and could be 4-1,” Wilson said. “But coulda-shoulda-woulda is not good enough.”
So where does the blame rest? Bad football and bad character festers from the top.
By his own definition, the work of Payton has stunk worse than one of the worst coaching jobs in NFL history.