It turned out Brett Rypien, the ninth quarterback to start a game for the Denver Broncos since the start of the 2017 season and the same guy who spent all of last season and most of this one on the team’s practice squad, was the guy who could do just enough to get the Broncos their first win of the season.
Rypien looked like a prodigy at times and a quarterback making his first start in other moments as the Broncos ground out a 37-28 victory Thursday night at MetLife Stadium to move their record to 1-3.
Rypien, who was told he was going to start the game on Monday night by coach Vic Fangio, finished 19-of-31 passing for 242 yards to go with two touchdowns and three interceptions, the second of which was returned for a touchdown by Pierre Desir with 10 minutes, 45 seconds remaining in the game. A 48-yard touchdown run by Melvin Gordon just inside the two-minute warning, on which Rypien threw a downfield block, sealed the win.
And while Desir’s pick-six was easily Rypien’s worst decision in the game, and he took an intentional grounding penalty in the final minutes that came perilously close to pushing Brandon McManus out of range for what at the time looked to be the game-winning kick, Rypien earned good marks overall for his night’s work. In addition to the win, he also managed one of the most difficult things for the Broncos this season — he avoided a sack — as a team that surrendered 13 sacks in the previous two games did not surrender one to the host Jets on Thursday night.
Rypien is the third quarterback to start a game for the Broncos in four games this season after Drew Lock suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder in the Week 2 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jeff Driskel struggled in the Week 3 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Broncos coaches, including Fangio and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, had liked how Rypien had handled himself, especially in how quickly he delivered the ball, in the Broncos’ last possession against the Buccaneers. The Broncos also had plenty of their own intel given Rypien had arrived as an undrafted rookie just after the 2019 draft and the coaches have seen him in two training camps.
“We’ve had a year and two training camps with Brett, and we think he deserves a chance to see what he can do here as the starter,” is how Fangio put it this past week. “Other than the last throw on Sunday [an interception] … so we want to see if that can continue.”
The biggest change for the Broncos, who entered the game 30th in the NFL in scoring and 29th in total offense, was Rypien pushing the ball down the field early in the game. He hit a 48-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver Jerry Jeudy in the second quarter — Jeudy jumped and snatched the ball away from Desir — and hit Tim Patrick on a 40-yarder later in the quarter.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats data, those two completions put Rypien on a short list with Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady as quarterbacks with two completions this season of at least 40 air yards.
Rypien hit 9 of his first 11 passes for 141 yards, and by the end of the third quarter he was 15-of-21 for 187 yards with two touchdowns.
Things unraveled some for Rypien when the Jets, who tried to crank up the pressure on Rypien through the night, intercepted him on back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter to turn a 27-18 Broncos lead into a 28-27 Jets lead with just over six minutes to play.
But the Broncos put together a field goal drive on their next possession, to go with Gordon’s run, to close out their first win.
And with Lock expected to miss at least one more game — the Broncos are scheduled to go to New England on Oct. 11 — his earliest return could be Oct. 18 against Miami. However, Fangio has said since it is Lock’s throwing shoulder that is injured, Lock will not return to the lineup if there is any doubt about the injury, so he could be held out additional weeks.
The Broncos also signed veteran quarterback Blake Bortles last week, but with Rypien’s performance against the Jets as well as his knowledge of Denver’s offense, Rypien is expected to face the Patriots.