In late July, Broncos coach Sean Payton became a pin cushion for widespread criticism after his comments to Jarrett Bell of USA Today went public. Payton was dragged for his stunning candor, with shots fired at the Broncos for their mishandling of Russell Wilson in 2022, at former Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett for the poor job he did with the team, and at the Jets for the over-the-top hype they were receiving at the time.
Payton drew further ridicule after the season began and the Broncos stunk, since Payton also said of the 2023 Broncos, "“I’m going to be pissed off if this is not a playoff team."
In hindsight, Payton was right. About everything he said.
Of the 2022 Broncos, he said this: “It doesn’t happen often where an NFL team or organization gets embarrassed. And that happened here. Part of it was their own fault, relative to spending so much fucking time trying to win the offseason — the P.R., the pomp and circumstance, marching people around and all this stuff."
Of the 2023 Jets, he said this: “You watch. Hard Knocks, all of it. I can see it coming. Remember when Dan Snyder put that Dream Team together? I was at the Giants [at the time]. I was a young coach. I thought, ‘How are we going to compete with them? Deion’s there now.’ That team won eight games or whatever. So, listen . . . just put the work in.”
On Wilson's struggles during his first year with the Broncos, Payton said this: “There’s so much dirt around that. There’s 20 dirty hands, for what was allowed, tolerated in the fricking training rooms, the meeting rooms. The offense. I don’t know Hackett. A lot of people had dirt on their hands. It wasn’t just Russell. He didn’t just flip. He still has it. This B.S. that he hit a wall? Shoot, they couldn’t get a play in. They were 29th in the league in pre-snap penalties on both sides of the ball.”
On Hackett, Payton said this: "It might have been one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL. That’s how bad it was.”
Should Payton have said those things? No. And it's still not clear how it happened. (My own theory is that he accidentally failed to seek "off-the-record" protection, and that he opted to own his mistake by never mentioning it.) Still, Payton was right.
The proof is in the standings. The Broncos have won five in a row after a 1-5 start. They are serious playoff contenders.
The Jets went from preseason darlings to afterthought. And even though it appeared for a while that they might find a way to win enough games until Aaron Rodgers returns from a torn Achilles tendon, the offense has totally and completely failed. And the offense is ultimately managed by the person Payton accused of registering "one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL."
Again, Payton shouldn't have said what he said. Beyond the immediate reaction to his comments, he set himself up to look even worse, when he was forced to eat his own words.
After 12 weeks of the 2023 regular season, it looks like Payton won't be eating his own words. It looks like he'll be dining on the doubts of those who were so quick to dismiss him.