Home Sports Fired-up Jets help Hackett take revenge in Denver

Fired-up Jets help Hackett take revenge in Denver

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Fired-up Jets help Hackett take revenge in Denver

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DENVER — Facing the team that fired him and the coach who maligned him in print, New York Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett enjoyed a day of sweet revenge as his unit racked up 407 total yards Sunday in a 31-21 victory over the Denver Broncos at Empower Field.

Hackett was presented a game ball in a raucous winning locker room, where he was cheered and mobbed by players. He spoke briefly to the team, refusing to gloat or accept any credit. The players did that for him, describing how they badly they wanted to make him a winner.

“If someone talks s— about one of us or one of our coaches or anybody in the building, we want to have their back,” tight end C.J. Uzomah said. “So this one was for Hack.”

Hackett was called out in training camp by Broncos coach Sean Payton, who told USA Today that the 2022 Broncos were undermined by “one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL.” Hackett was fired with a 4-11 record in his first season.

He didn’t mention the Payton comments during the run-up to the game, players said, but it was on their minds. Before the game, Uzomah gathered his offensive teammates in the end zone and delivered a fiery, profanity-laced pep talk, taking direct aim at Payton.

In his brief speech — caught on video and posted on social media — Uzomah accused Payton of making the game “personal.” After dropping a couple of expletives, he implored his teammates, “Let’s go win this b—- for Hackett!”

Hackett wasn’t available to the media after the win, which snapped a three-game losing streak for the Jets (2-3), but it had to be enormously satisfying. It wasn’t an artistic offensive performance — the Jets were 0-for-5 in the red zone — but they pounded away at Denver’s soft run defense.

Sparked by Breece Hall, who rushed for a career-high 177 yards (including a 72-yard touchdown), the Jets amassed 234 on the ground. Coach Robert Saleh called it “a special game” for Hackett and, even though he didn’t poke Payton or the Broncos, he made sure mention the Jets’ exact yardage total — 407.

Speaking of Hackett, linebacker Quincy Williams told reporters, “Put some respect on my dog’s name.”

Payton, who shook Saleh’s hand at midfield and then retreated immediately to his locker room, didn’t have much to say afterward.

“Listen, they played better than us,” Payton said. “I credit Robert and that staff, they won the game, that’s how I look at it.”

Asked if he regrets making the comments in late July, Payton said, “I already addressed that, though it’s a fair question. I addressed that the next day.” At the time, he said it was “a mistake” to criticize Hackett in that fashion.

Payton’s postgame news conference ended with that question. With a pause between questions, he took the opportunity to leave the room.

A month after getting fired by the Broncos, Hackett took the Jets job and was instrumental in luring Aaron Rodgers to the team. When Rodgers suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 1, it intensified the spotlight on Hackett, whose offense sputtered in the first three games. There was improvement in Week 4, but New York fell to the Kansas City Chiefs 23-20.

Finally, Hackett was able to enjoy a winning smile.

“Even if he wasn’t telling us, ‘This is personal to me,’ you could just look how he carried himself all week, you know what I mean?” cornerback Sauce Gardner said. “He had that look on his face, like, man, he really wanted this game. So it meant a lot to get a win for him.”

“If someone talks s— about one of us or one of our coaches or anybody in the building, we want to have their back. So this one was for Hack.”

Jets TE C.J. Uzomah

It wasn’t easy. Leading by only three points, Zach Wilson threw an interception deep in Denver territory with 2:14 left in the fourth quarter. With a chance to beat his former coach, Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson coughed it up on a strip sack by Williams. Cornerback Bryce Hall, starting his first game since 2021, scooped up the ball and ran 39 yards for the clinching touchdown.

Not only did they save their season, but the Jets gave their offensive coordinator a forever moment.

“It was a tiny little cherry on top of a huge sundae,” center Connor McGovern said.

Or Sunday.

ESPN’s Jeff Legwold contributed to this report.

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