MERILATT MONDAY

Sean Payton talked the talk, but wasn’t able to walk the walk

Oct 9, 2023, 4:00 AM | Updated: 2:41 pm


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Sean Payton put himself in the crosshairs on Sunday afternoon. During training camp, the Broncos first-year head coach added fuel to this team’s Week 5 matchup with the Jets when he threw Nathaniel Hackett under the bus.

Everyone remembers the comments. Payton went on the record with USA Today’s Jarrett Bell and slammed Denver’s former head coach.

“It might have been one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL,” Payton said of Hackett. “That’s how bad it was.”

In other words, the Broncos disappointing 5-12 mark a season ago wasn’t because of a lack of talent. It wasn’t due to Russell Wilson failing to live up to expectations. It was squarely on the coaching staff, starting with Hackett.

“Everything I heard about last season, we’re doing the opposite,” Payton added.

On Sunday, those comments blew up in the new head coach’s face. The Broncos fell to the Jets, with Hackett on the sidelines for New York as their offensive coordinator. It was the latest embarrassment in an already ridiculously bad start for Payton in the Mile High City.

So far, Denver’s new head coach has been a disaster. And that’s not an overstatement.

The Broncos are 0-3 at home this season. Those losses came to the Raiders, Commanders and Jets.

Their only win came last week against the Bears. They needed to rally from 28-7 down to pull that one off.

Against four of the worst teams in the league, Denver should be 0-4. Instead, they’re 1-3, which is hard to comprehend.

The Broncos are a bottom feeder and they’ve only played one good team through five weeks. Miami showed just how far Denver is away from being a contender, winning 70-20 in what was arguably the worst game in the history of the franchise.

It’s one of many lowlights through the first month-plus of the season. It’s incredible to consider just how bad it’s been already during Payton’s tenure.

But the loss to Hackett is the worst. It’s the ultimate egg-on-his-face, foot-in-his-mouth moment for Payton.

The head coach broke “the code” and publicly trashed one of the members of his profession. In the process, he wrote a check that his players had to cash for him.

They didn’t. And it didn’t seem like they were all that interested in doing so.

Leading up to kickoff, there was no talk that the Broncos had to go out and have their head coach’s back. There wasn’t any “win this one for coach” conversations taking place.

The opposite was true for the Jets. They clearly had Hackett’s back.

“If somebody talks (crap) about somebody on our team, in our building, our facility, we’re going to play for that person,” C.J. Uzomah told NFL Network’s James Palmer after the game.

The tight end had a pregame speech that went viral on social media. He was firing up his Jets teammates, imploring them to put it all on the line for Hackett.

“The emotion came out of me and I said what I said,” he told Palmer. “I don’t take that back. That’s what I was feeling in that moment and we were able to win if for Hack.”

On Friday, the Jets named Hackett as their fourth captain for the game. After the win, head coach Robert Saleh had another surprise for his offensive coordinator.

The Broncos didn’t feel the same way about Payton. Nobody had his back – during the week, before the game, on the field or in the locker room after the loss.

That speaks volumes. Denver is a team in disarray, a rudderless ship being captained by someone that nobody seems to believe in.

Greg Penner reportedly ponied up $80 million to lure Payton to Denver for the next five years. The Broncos owner thought he was hiring someone who could finally get things on the right track in the Mile High City.

The early returns on his investment aren’t good. In fact, they’re alarming.

Not only are the Broncos losing football games, but they don’t seem to have any direction. They’re an uninspired team.

Is the roster devoid of talent? Yep. Is Wilson overpaid and not living up to the trade and/or contract that brought him to Denver? Without a doubt.

But those aren’t the reasons why the Broncos are losing. That’s not why they’re currently 1-4 and headed nowhere.

That falls on Payton. Because believe it or not, he’s done a worse job that Hackett did a year ago.

That was readily apparent on Sunday afternoon. The Broncos current head coach didn’t just get outdone in terms of X’s and O’s by his predecessor, but he also showed that he’s nowhere near as good at motivating his team.

Right now, Payton’s team is playing like a bunch of disengaged mercenaries, players who are more interested in collecting a paycheck than winning football games. And to some extent, the head coach seems to fall in the same camp.

He got big money to leave a cushy TV gig, but that doesn’t appear to have rekindled the drive that made him so successful for 15 years in New Orleans. Right now, Sean Payton seems as uninspired as his team.

On Sunday, that resulted in yet another embarrassment. If the head coach doesn’t find his mojo quickly, it won’t be the last one this season.

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