Skip to Content

It’s Nathaniel Hackett’s Big Day

Mekhi Becton #77 and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett of the New York Jets celebrate after beating the Denver Broncos 31-21 at Empower Field At Mile High on October 08, 2023 in Denver, Colorado.
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

On Sunday, the New York Jets and the Denver Broncos played each other at football. Eww, right? But there was significant intrigue headed into this game between two 1-3 teams, all thanks to two mediocrities standing on opposing sidelines: Broncos head coach Sean Payton and Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.

The Broncos made a splash two offseasons ago by trading their future for Russell Wilson and hiring Hackett to be their head coach. Things went poorly, with Hackett looking totally overmatched and Wilson looking washed and out of touch with reality. The pile-on was rough and Hackett was fired before the season's end. But don't cry for Hackett, because he ended up getting hired to be the Jets' offensive coordinator this past offseason, finally fulfilling his destiny of being bait for Aaron Rodgers. The Broncos replaced Hackett with recent TV commentator Sean Payton, who was feeling confident enough during the offseason to publicly call Hackett's tenure in Denver "one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL." He apologized almost immediately.

Predictably, this led to some beef between the Jets and Broncos. Rodgers and Jets head coach Robert Saleh both stuck up for their guy, and Hackett himself had choice words for Payton.

What Payton said may have been rude and self-serving, but it wasn't incorrect. Football teams will take motivation wherever they can get it, though, and so as soon as Rodgers went down in Week 1, taking all of the Jets' hopes with him, Sunday's game became the team's Super Bowl. After winning 31-21, thanks to a last-minute defensive touchdown that was required after Zach Wilson tried to give the game away with a late interception, all the attention turned to Hackett. Players and coaches lined up for hugs with him, Saleh gave him the game ball, and the Jets' social media team took a somewhat inscrutable shot at Payton and the Broncos.

"How sweet is this?" wrote's Ian Rapoport about the Jets rallying around Hackett, as if he was observing an inspiring story about a rescue dog and not a grown man barely fulfilling his job duties. Nobody seemed to want to dwell on the fact that Hackett's offense scored just 22 points on the worst defense in the league and nearly coughed up the game with a fourth-quarter interception.

That said, I do get the Jets' reaction. If ever presented with the opportunity to make Sean Payton, one of the most arrogant pricks to ever stalk an NFL sideline, eat shit, you have to take it. Saleh seemed to relish in their postgame handshake, and you know he felt like a million bucks while whispering whatever he did into Payton's ear. And Hackett might as well enjoy his time as an inspiring mascot while he can—the Jets play the Eagles next week, and I don't think there are going to be many game balls to go around after that one.

If you liked this blog, please share it! Your referrals help Defector reach new readers, and those new readers always get a few free blogs before encountering our paywall.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter