DENVER (AP) — The New York Jets didn't feel much like celebrating their 16-9 escape of the punchless Denver Broncos on Sunday.
The Jets lost Breece Hall to a left knee injury in the second quarter and coach Robert Saleh said the initial diagnosis is an ACL tear that would end the running back's rookie sensational season.
“We'll see tomorrow," Saleh said. "I'm going to stay as optimistic as I can, but yeah, he's a heck of a football player."
The Jets (5-2) lost Hall when he was tackled near their sideline by Patrick Surtain II and Jonas Griffith after a short run in the second quarter. He was helped off the field and carted to the locker room.
Hall finished with 72 yards on four carries, including the Jets' only touchdown, a 62-yard masterpiece in which he hit a top speed of 21.87 mph according to NextGen Stats, the fastest by a ballcarrier this season.
The second-rounder from Iowa State had quickly established himself as a key playmaker for the Jets and was coming off a season-high 116 yards rushing at Green Bay. He leads the Jets with 463 yards and four touchdowns on 80 attempts.
Rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner helped secure the surprising Jets' fourth straight victory by breaking up Brett Rypien's fourth-down pass into the end zone to Courtland Sutton with just under 2 minutes remaining. Rypien's final heave in the closing moments fell woefully short of KJ Hamler's grasp at the goal line.
Denver starting quarterback Russell Wilson sat this one out with a pulled hamstring, missing a game for just the fourth time in his 11-year career. But the Broncos (2-5), who are last in the league in scoring, fared no better under Rypien, who was making his second career start.
The Jets are off to their best start since 2010, have their first four-game winning streak since 2015 and already surpassed their win total from last year when they went 4-13. New York also improved to 4-0 on the road.
The Broncos lost their fourth straight despite another outstanding defensive performance. The Broncos had more first downs and yards and fewer penalties and punts than the Jets but came away with another gut-wrenching loss.
“I’m sick of being up here saying the same thing over and over again,” Broncos rookie coach Nathaniel Hackett said. “The opportunities are there. At some point, we've got to take them. There’s no excuses. We've been in every single game and we've got to win these games."
Zach Wilson was held without a touchdown for the second straight week, but he did enough to lead the Jets to the win despite his pedestrian stats: 16 for 26 for 121 yards.
“We knew it was going to be a grind,” the Jets QB said, and Saleh concurred.
“First off, this defense is ridiculous,” Saleh said. “They've got a really good defense. Credit to them. Obviously, Zach wants some things that he could have back, but he did a great job. He didn't turn the ball over. He got the ball to where he needed to and we were still able to generate a couple of scoring drives in the second half.”
Rypien's only other start was also against the Jets, a 37-28 win at MetLife Stadium in 2020, but he went 24 for 46 for 225 yards and no touchdowns and threw a crucial second-half interception in this one.
Rypien's throw to tight end Greg Dulcich in triple coverage was easily picked off by safety Lamarcus Joyner, whose 27-yard return to the Denver 37 set up Greg Zuerlein's 33-yard field goal that gave the Jets a 13-9 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Zuerlein's 45-yarder as the first half expired sent the Jets into halftime with a 10-9 lead.
That field goal was into a stiff wind at the south end zone, the same direction that Brandon McManus missed an extra point following Latavius Murray's 2-yard TD run.
McManus also missed a 56-yarder with the wind before making a 44-yarder to put Denver ahead 9-7.
“When you only end up with nine points, you kind of sit here like, ‘No idea,’” Rypien said of Denver's continued offensive struggles.
The Jets struggled just as much but have learned how to close in Saleh's second season.
“It was grimy, for sure,” Jets running back Michael Carter said. "We've just got to keep getting better. We've got a little bit of dog in us.”
The Broncos honored the Super Bowl 32 champions on the 25th anniversary of their title season with a halftime ceremony capping their reunion weekend.
“Until I die, I’m going to have people come up to me and say, ’Thank you for winning that Super Bowl (and for what) it did to me or my family,” Super Bowl 32 MVP Terrell Davis said. “That’s the coolest part about it now. It’s 25 years later, but people still remember it like it was yesterday.”
Jets: G Alijah Vera-Tucker (elbow), WR Corey Davis (knee) and DL John Franklin-Myers (undisclosed) were hurt, in addition to Hall.
Broncos: The snakebit Broncos lost RB Mike Boone (ankle), OLB Barron Browning (hip) and RT Cam Flemming (thigh).
Jets: Host New England on Sunday.
Broncos: Fly out Monday to London, where they'll play Jacksonville on Sunday.