EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)—The weather conditions were perfect, as far as Jay Cutler was concerned.
Appearing hardly bothered by the steady rain and wind that whipped through the Meadowlands, Cutler threw for 357 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Denver Broncos to a 34-17 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday.
“He embraced throwing in the rain,” Denver coach Mike Shanahan said. “He likes it. There is nothing that seems to bother him. Some guys it bothers, others it doesn’t. With Cutler, he likes throwing the wet ball.”
Cutler finished 27-of-43 passing, mixing in short, accurate throws with a few long ones while picking on the Jets’ suspect secondary.
“I don’t know if ‘likes’ is the right word,” Cutler said. “I think it has a lot to do with mind-set. We knew last night what the conditions would be like. I’ve had some success in the past in inclement weather, being able to throw it. I just feel comfortable back there throwing it.”
And it certainly showed. Cutler helped the Broncos (7-5) wash away the sting of a 31-10 loss to Oakland at home last weekend by stopping the Jets’ five-game winning streak. Rookie Peyton Hillis rushed for a career-high 129 yards and a score, becoming the first to gain 100 or more yards against New York’s third-ranked run defense.
“The thing that really got me going was the ESPN analysis and they were all saying we shouldn’t get off the plane,” Hillis said. “That really got me fired up.”
It was a disappointing loss for New York (8-4), which was coming off emotional victories at New England and Tennessee and was making a claim as the conference’s top team.
“We just didn’t show up like we were supposed to today,” Jets running back Thomas Jones said.
Added running back Leon Washington: “We realize we’re not as good as we thought we were.”
Brandon Stokley and Eddie Royal each had touchdown catches, and tight ends Tony Scheffler and Daniel Graham combined for 13 catches and 149 yards as the Broncos took a commanding three-game lead in the AFC West with four games left.
“We took this as a challenge,” receiver Brandon Marshall said. “We came out today and showed what we can do when we play consistent.”
Jones had 138 yards rushing and two touchdowns for New York, which maintained its one-game lead in the AFC East over New England and Miami despite the loss.
“I was really disappointed with the way that we played today,” said a clearly irritated coach Eric Mangini. “We’ve established a certain way to play football around here. We’ve established a certain identity and this wasn’t even close to that.”
Brett Favre struggled in the sloppy conditions, finishing 23-of-43 for 247 yards and an interception.
“We got outplayed,” Favre said. “We had plenty of opportunities. It wasn’t like we played our best football and we just lost. I thought Denver played outstanding.”
Broncos safety Vernon Fox gave the Broncos an early lead when he returned a fumble 23 yards for a touchdown on a controversial play midway through the opening period.
Wide receiver Brad Smith took a direct snap and tried to hand off to Jerricho Cotchery, but the ball squirted away. Cotchery jumped on top of it and was immediately hit, the ball coming loose. Fox picked it up and returned it for a touchdown.
Mangini wanted to challenge the call, but the officials ruled Cotchery had never gained possession so it was still a fumble, and not a reviewable play.
“I felt like Jerricho had possession,” Mangini said. “They felt he didn’t.”
Jones got the Jets right back in it with a 59-yard touchdown run on the opening play of New York’s next possession. But Denver came right back four plays later when Royal, showing no signs of the toe injury that limited him in practice, scored on a 59-yard touchdown pass with 6:44 left.
Jones scored his second touchdown early in the second quarter on an athletic, heads-up play to put the Jets within three at 17-14. He took the handoff and went down, but his body rolled over the Broncos’ Kenny Peterson without touching the ground. Jones bounced up and zipped into the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown.
“I felt when he had tried to spin me around, I landed on top of him and I didn’t feel the ground, so when I rolled back over, I just tried to stay on my feet,” Jones said.
The Broncos had players injured—Spencer Larsen, Ebenezer Ekuban and Dre’ Bly—on consecutive catch-and-runs by Leon Washington on one scoring drive, and a few others also went down during other drives. The fans booed, apparently thinking Denver was purposely trying to stop New York’s momentum.
“We took it personal,” Marshall said. “If not for the fans, the outcome might have been different. We thank the Jets fans for booing when our guys were down.”
Royal set Broncos rookie records with his fifth touchdown reception and yards receiving for a single season. … Jones’ 11 rushing TDs are a career high.