EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The first Sunday of October 2018 will be the day the "No Fly Zone" was officially retired.
Or passed away. Or moved away. Or faded away. Take your pick, because while it had been missed, it’s officially done now.
But there was plenty of blame to be spread evenly around for what transpired Sunday in MetLife Stadium, from John Elway's office to head coach Vance Joseph on down. The New York Jets’ 34-17 victory over the Denver Broncos dropped the Broncos to 2-3 and did significant damage to what had been the we're-right-there theory the team had espoused in the first month of the regular season.
“We didn’t play good and it showed up and that team wanted it more than our football team and it obviously showed," said Broncos coach Vance Joseph. “We have no excuses, none."
The Broncos’ offense has its own set of significant problems, and appears to be repeating 2017. The Broncos seem to want to throw -- a lot -- out of a three-wide set, but they’re not particularly good at that right now.
This team was built around defense. It won Super Bowl 50 with defense. The team’s biggest contract -- Von Miller’s -- is on defense. Its personality, heartbeat and soul has been on defense.
All of that was smashed into little bits by a Jets team that entered the day at 1-3 with the 29th-ranked offense in the league. And, oh yeah, coming to Denver in seven days are the Los Angeles Rams, bringing a whole lot more offensive octane to the table than the Jets’ playbook does -- and ranked just a tad higher than 29th.
“It’s all of us, it’s a three-unit issue (Sunday)," Joseph said.
“We had some gap issues, some missed assignments and they hit them big," said linebacker Todd Davis. “They hit the creases."
The Jets controlled tempo with a head-shaking 147 yards rushing in the first half alone. Those missed tackles and missed assignments, as well as often breezy running lanes against the Broncos' defense, brought the total to 323 yards rushing by game’s end -- the fifth-highest total in a game against the Broncos in franchise history.
“Oh wow, tackling, fits … on the first one we’ve got two guys unblocked and they don’t tackle (Isaiah Crowell)," Joseph said. “ … We knew that kid had big play ability so I’m not surprised he went the distance (77 yards for a TD) when nobody tackled him. We had two guys unblocked."
There was a time when the Broncos would roll five or six defensive backs on to the field and suffocate offenses. Now those offenses love when they see that alignment.
Against the Broncos' nickel package (five defensive backs) Sunday, the Jets had rushing plays of 15, 77 and 54 yards. And when the Broncos did what they used to do best -- play their dime (six defensive backs) -- it was clear the mojo has left the building, as Miller finished his third consecutive game without a sack.
Against a rookie quarterback who looked neither confused nor unsettled.
That rookie quarterback, Sam Darnold, came into the day as the 29th-rated quarterback in the league. He had just five completions late in the first half, but two of those were for touchdowns. The first of the scoring passes was a 76-yard toss against the Broncos' dime, and the second was a 35-yarder against the Broncos' nickel.
“These last couple of weeks, I just haven’t been able to do it," Miller said. “I’ve got to play better, I to have make more plays … I have to rush the passer better, I have to play the run better, I’m not doing anything too good right now."
Two of Darnold’s three touchdown passes came over cornerback Bradley Roby, who, fair or not, will always be the guy the Broncos said could replace Aqib Talib. That will only fuel the why-didn’t-the-Broncos-keep-Talib swirl no matter how much time Talib spends on injured reserve for the Rams this season.
“(Roby) has got to play with confidence," Joseph said. “That’s part of being an NFL starter. They go at you, they make a play or two and you have to go back out there and battle. And if you don’t it looks like that."
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, it is what it is," Roby said. “I have confidence because I know my job is hard, I’m I coverage without a lot of help."
Before they left for New Jersey, the Broncos framed the trip as if they were ready to turn the corner this season. And certainly, with 11 games remaining, they can still play the there’s-a-lot-of-football card for the next game or two. But the swagger is gone. It always is for teams that have players looking at one another, palms facing up, after the big plays keep coming.
And it doesn't matter if it's the plan or the personnel, or both: The Broncos are on their own to dig themselves out, if they still have that in them, because plenty of offenses will plan to do what the Jets did. Because help is not on the way.