With five straight losses and a short week coming up, the New York Jets are spiraling out of control.
At least they weren't embarrassed by the Denver Broncos on Sunday, falling 31-17 one week after a 31-0 rout at the hands of San Diego. Next up: the archrival Patriots in Foxborough.
No, it doesn't get any easier for the Jets.
"It's not about what people say," defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson said. "I felt like we fought hard the whole game. We're behind a wall and I feel like we cracked that wall today. Hopefully we can break it come Thursday night."
On Sunday, the rushing game and defense against the run were broken — odd because the Jets (1-5) ranked sixth in the league in both categories coming into the day. Third-year tailback Ronnie Hillman ran 24 times for 100 yards, by far his best showing in his first pro start. Rookie Juwan Thompson added 38 yards, which was 7 more than the entire Jets running game gained.
"One thing is, we have to run the football. I mean, we're built to run," coach Rex Ryan said. "I think we've just got to stay the course with it and see what happens."
More discomforting might have been what the Broncos (4-1) did to New York's strong rush defense. Although Peyton Manning threw for three touchdowns, he didn't dominate the game. The way Denver was running the ball, he didn't need to.
"From the way they were playing us, they didn't think much of our running game coming in," Manning said. "''They are kind of laughing at your running game when they drop the linebackers like that, put them outside in coverage on the receivers. Based on what we've been doing, that's probably a valid philosophy.
"When there's eight guys in coverage, it's good to get the run game kind of going."
The Jets know they'll need to wake up from the funk quickly.
"We're upset," running back Chris Johnson said after gaining 9 yards on three carries. "We're a better team than we're showing."
Manning connected with Julius Thomas twice and Demaryius Thomas once, leaving him two shy of Brett Favre's career mark for passing TDs. Manning has 506 touchdown passes, and could tie or break Favre's record next Sunday at home against San Francisco. He finished 22 of 33 for 237 yards — a far cry from last week's performance against Arizona, when he passed for a career-high 479 yards with four TDs.
But Manning displayed his methodical best at times in his return to MetLife Stadium, where he and the Broncos were blown out by Seattle in the Super Bowl last February. And Demaryius Thomas finished with 10 catches for 134 yards.
Eric Decker's 2-yard touchdown catch, his first against his former team, made it 24-17 with 7:56 left. The Jets had a chance to tie when they got the ball deep in their territory with less than a minute left. But after a sack put the ball at the 1, Geno Smith was intercepted by Aqib Talib, who returned it 22 yards for a sealing touchdown.
The struggling Smith, looking to keep his starting job, was 23 of 43 for 190 yards and touchdown passes to Jace Amaro and Decker. Amaro had 10 catches for 68 yards, while Decker finished with six for 54 yards.
The Broncos got going quickly, with Manning connecting with Demaryius Thomas for 54 yards on Denver's first play from scrimmage. Brandon McManus then kicked a 37-yard field goal.
Dee Milliner, New York's top cornerback, injured his right Achilles tendon during the field goal. Milliner pounded the turf in pain, and couldn't put any weight on his leg as he was helped off the field and straight into the locker room.
The Jets also lost starting left guard Brian Winters to a left leg injury, while Denver linebacker Danny Travathon left with a knee injury.
Manning scrambled away from pressure and hit Demaryius Thomas for a 1-yard touchdown to give the Broncos a 10-7 lead late in the second quarter.
The Broncos went 80 yards on nine plays on their next possession, capped by Manning's perfectly placed 22-yard throw to Julius Thomas that made it 17-7 with 27 seconds left.
Julius Thomas screamed "It's so easy!" after he caught his second TD pass from Manning midway through the third quarter. The drive was helped by a 26-yard run by Hillman, who fumbled at the end of the play, but the Broncos recovered. Sheldon Richardson also was called for a personal foul for unnecessary roughness that made it first-and-goal from the 4 one play before the touchdown.
Julius Thomas' nine touchdown catches are the most by a tight end through his team's first five games.
Amaro's first NFL touchdown, a 2-yarder, gave New York a 7-3 lead. Amaro outleaped T.J. Ward in the left corner of the end zone to give the Jets their first lead since Week 2 at Green Bay.
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