EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. --On the Broncos' land-mine schedule for the first half of the season, this was supposed to be the "easy" game. The hole in a doughnut topped with grenades for sprinkles.
But against the New York Jets, at MetLife Stadium, the term "easy game" does not exist. Only two teams the last two years have a greater positive disparity between home and road performance. And even though tight end Julius Thomas was caught by the CBS microphones yelling, "Too easy!" after his third-quarter touchdown, the truth of the game was anything but.
When it looked as though the Broncos were about to turn the game into a runaway, the Jets punched back. And while some of the Broncos' wounds were self-inflicted, more were caused by the Jets' defensive aggression and an increased willingness by quarterback Geno Smith to put the ball into tight windows.
The final result was a 31-17 win that was not decided until cornerback Aqib Talib crossed the goal line with a 22-yard interception return 15 seconds from the final whistle.
It saw the Broncos struggle -- in one four-possession stretch of the first half, they labored to just two first downs and punted four times -- and then rally with three consecutive touchdowns. It saw some gorgeous moments, but was at times inelegant and unsteady.
But the one thing it was not, the Broncos insisted, was an "ugly" win.
"There's no such thing," said defensive end Malik Jackson, who again wreaked havoc with a quarterback hit, a tackle for a loss and multiple pressures. "It might be ugly (to someone) sitting at home, eating potato chips.
"A win is a win. In this league, they're hard to come by, as you can tell with a lot of these teams."
The Jets' effort and ability to create headaches belied their record, which is now 1-5. That was apparent from the moment Muhammad Wilkerson used an adept hand move to work past center Manny Ramirez and sack Peyton Manning for one of their two sacks.
The Jets were tenacious, disruptive, and, at times, dictated the terms of the game.
"It's the NFL, man. We're always going to have games like this," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "People have got to understand: teams play us, and it's their Super Bowl every time they play the Denver Broncos, and that's how it is."
Added linebacker Von Miller: "It's not like college like where you get up by, you know, 45 points and it'd be done."
Sometimes, adversity is thrust upon you. At others, you make it yourself. Sunday was a collision of both. The Broncos lost linebacker Danny Trevathan to a left knee injury and played stretches without Miller and cornerback Aqib Talib, both of whom returned.
Check out the best shots from Sunday's game against the Jets.
And the Broncos made their share of mistakes. Their offensive linemen and tight ends committed six penalties -- five of which were accepted.
But they also adapted to what the Jets offered. Quarterback Peyton Manning stepped out of trouble and avoided the big hit. He often went with a handoff when he made his pre-snap adjustments at the line of scrimmage because the Jets pulled their linebackers outside to cover Broncos targets, opening up the middle if blockers could spring Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson to the second level.
"We just need to eliminate some of the negatives," said Manning.
But what the Broncos took from their trip to New Jersey was perhaps the most valuable type of result: a win that leaves ample room for improvement, and was a stern test.
"It was a gritty victory," said Head Coach John Fox.
And there was nothing "easy" about it.