Hard-hitting Broncos safety Kareem Jackson delivered a helmet-to-helmet collision that got him sent to the locker room. It also sent Denver's defense into a tailspin.
Jackson's second-quarter ejection was the start of a momentum shift as Sam Howell rallied the Washington Commanders from an 18-point deficit to a 35-33 win on Sunday.
Denver's traditionally reliable defense has been unable to protect leads in losing back-to-back home games to start a season for the first time in franchise history.
"We have a standard for ourselves," All-Pro cornerback Pat Surtain II said. "And when we can't reach that standard, it's obviously frustrating."
Jackson's hit drew immediate outrage on social media. The veteran defensive back launched himself at Logan Thomas moments after the Washington tight end hauled in a 4-yard TD pass. Several Commanders took exception and confronted Jackson before being separated. The officials called Jackson for a personal foul and disqualified him.
It's the second straight week in which Jackson has drawn a flag for an illegal hit. Last weekend, Las Vegas Raiders receiver Jakobi Meyers left on the game's final drive after taking a shot from Jackson that drew an unnecessary roughness flag. Meyers was out this weekend with a concussion.
Thomas left the game to be evaluated for a concussion and was ruled out.
"We know Kareem, and we know he likes to tackle, and he likes to make big hits," Surtain said. "He's a very physical player.
"Seeing him come out of the game was a pretty bad moment, for sure."
Broncos coach Sean Payton didn't weigh in on whether he thought the league might be inclined to suspend Jackson.
"Those things happen so quickly from my vantage point. You just get to see it one time," Payton said of the play. "You look up and they make the call, and you have to go with it."
The touchdown by Thomas ignited the Commanders' comeback from a 21-3 deficit.
"We've got to find a way just to have that will power, just to finish," Surtain said. "We're going to see what type of team we are moving forward. We've just got to keep on working, keep getting better and keep on progressing."
The Broncos remain thin in the secondary after losing starting safety Caden Sterns to a torn left patellar tendon in the opener, sending the 14th-year veteran Jackson back into the starting lineup opposite Justin Simmons.
Delarrin Turner-Yell, a fifth-round pick in 2022 out of Oklahoma, took over for Jackson and joined Simmons in the defensive backfield. But Turner-Yell got hurt, too, early in the fourth quarter, which meant nickel back Essang Bassey had to slide over to safety on a day when the Broncos saw Howell drive Washington to scores on five of of his last seven series, including a missed field goal.
"We've got the right pieces, the right tools, the right scheme," Surtain said after the Broncos collected their first four sacks of the season. "We've got to find a way. Because when there's a way, there's a will.
"Obviously, we wanted this one bad. But we've still got a lot of season and a lot can change in the next few weeks."
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
By PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer
for more features.