ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Named the Denver Broncos’ punt returner before the preseason even began, rookie Isaiah McKenzie could hold on to neither the football nor the job.
After six fumbles by McKenzie, Jordan Taylor has come to the rescue.
The lanky undrafted receiver from Rice, who never returned punts in high school or college, helped spark the Broncos’ 23-0 win over the Jets on Sunday by returning five punts for 62 yards.
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That helped the Broncos win the field position battle – and a game – for the first time in two months as they snapped an eight-game skid that was the franchise’s longest since joining the NFL in 1970.
”Aside from D.T., Jordan Taylor’s the MVP of the game,” said quarterback Trevor Siemian, who connected with Demaryius Thomas eight times for 93 yards and a touchdown.
Taylor replaced McKenzie last month and mostly called for fair catches in two games, although he did have a 15-yard return against Cincinnati and an 8-yard return against Oakland.
Coach Vance Joseph went back to McKenzie when the Broncos played at Miami last week. He said afterward he felt two weeks was enough time for McKenzie to get straightened out.
McKenzie fielded a punt near his goal line, ran backward and allowed the ball to get punched out. He smothered it in the end zone for a safety, the low point of a 35-9 loss to the Dolphins.
The Broncos had finally seen enough from the rookie they had drafted specifically to return punts.
Joseph said McKenzie was going to be benched for the final four games and he was going back to Taylor.
”I’ve never done it before. I didn’t do it in high school or college, so it is a new thing to me but I think I’m learning,” said Taylor, who is averaging 12.4 yards with 85 yards on seven punt returns. ”I’m looking forward to getting out there and doing it some more.”
He’ll get that chance soon enough – the Broncos (4-9) visit the Colts (3-10) on Thursday night.
”It’s a tough job to catch punts back there,” Taylor said. ”You’ve got a lot going on and a short amount of time and you’ve got to make sure you make good decisions. That’s really what I’m focused on.”
Taylor, a 6-foot-5 wide receiver who is nine inches taller than McKenzie, spent his entire rookie season on the Broncos’ practice squad in 2015 and was mostly known as Peyton Manning’s personal workout partner while the five-time MVP worked his way back from a foot injury to help the Broncos win Super Bowl 50.
Last year, he played in all 16 games and caught 16 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns.
He’s played in six games with two starts this season, catching six passes for 55 yards, a total he surpassed with his five punt returns Sunday.
”I was proud of Jordan. That’s a tough job because if you don’t catch the ball at certain spots, it can kill you,” Joseph said Monday. ”Yesterday, he did a great job of decision-making back there. That’s a tough job because sometimes you’re not sure how close the gunners are.
”Their guy, four times the ball hit the ground and it backed them up inside of the 5-yard line. Jordan was key for us yesterday by keeping the ball off the ground and keeping our field position flipped all game.”
Notes: S Justin Simmons is day-to-day with a mild left high ankle sprain, the result of coming down on Brandon Marshall’s right foot while celebrating the linebacker’s strip sack Sunday. … S Jamal Carter has a bruised left shoulder but should be OK to play Thursday night, Joseph said. … DE Zach Kerr on returning to Indianapolis: ”It’s going to be emotional. It’s my first NFL team. I was undrafted and made a team, all that stuff. At the end of the day, business is business, and it’s just another game.”
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