EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J -- Those boos heard at Giants Stadium yesterday were not to be confused with shouts of "B-o-o-mer."
Boomer Esiason, one of New York's favorite sons, make his debut for the New York Jets yesterday. The former University of Maryland star completed 29 of 40 passes for 371 yards, his first 300-yard day in almost two years. He directed the offense superbly in the second half, throwing two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter.
But that was not soon enough, as the Denver Broncos held on for a 26-20 victory over the Jets before 68,130.
"To come out here and slop it up the way we did was disappointing and we deserved to hear it from the fans," said Esiason. "I'm tired of losing. I went through two years of losing at Cincinnati and I'm not going to tolerate it anymore."
It was an emotional day for Esiason and the Jets. Their former teammate, defensive lineman Dennis Byrd, who broke his neck in a game last Nov. 29, was named an honorary captain and participated in the pre-game and halftime ceremonies.
This was also Esiason's home coming party. He grew up in nearby East Islip, N.Y., where he was a three-sport letter winner in high school.
When the Jets acquired him in a March 17 trade with the Bengals, he became the most celebrated Jets quarterback since Joe Namath. He had all the stuff -- the charisma, the swagger, blond hair, blue eyes -- and he drove a $129,000 Mercedes.
Esiason became a New York poster child, appearing in magazine ads and selling everything from Apex jackets to Pro-Line helmets.
Then came yesterday.
"I know it might sound like a cliche, but numbers don't mean a thing," said Esiason. "Only one number is important, that's putting one in the win column."
"This loss is disappointing for a number of reasons," Esiason said. "No. 1, Dennis was here and then No. 2, it was the home opener for a number of new Jets."
Other heralded Jets making their debuts included defensive tackle Leonard Marshall, cornerback/kick returner Clifford Hicks, cornerback Eric Thomas and safety Ronnie Lott. But most of the fans wanted to see Esiason and the left arm that earns him $3 million a year.
Esiason got off to a good start. Well, kind of. His first pass was a 16-yard dart to receiver Terance Mathis on a slant-in pattern. Mathis fumbled, however, setting up a 28-yard field goal by Jason Elam with barely five minutes gone.
Esiason's next pass was thrown short and intercepted by Broncos linebacker Tyrone Braxton at the New York 44. That set up the second Elam field goal from 30 yards.
Esiason heard his first boos. Tough crowd here in New York.
"What did you expect?" said Bruce Coslet, the Jets coach. "All preseason we talked about getting rid of turnovers and we lay it down twice in our first two possessions. We're lucky we only trailed 6-0."
Esiason's third pass was almost intercepted by Denver free safety Steve Atwater, but his fourth was a beauty, a 36-yarder down the left sideline to tight end Johnny Mitchell.
But on third-and-goal from the Denver 5, Denver linebacker Karl Mecklenburg faked a blitz. Esiason panicked, fumbled the snap and the Jets had to settle for a 22-yard field goal from Cary Blanchard.
"They showed me a defense I had not seen," said Esiason. "I was supposed to roll to my left, and they had a whole bunch of people there. So I tried to get there as soon as possible, and I pulled away too quickly."
It was that kind of first half for the Jets. Esiason completed six of 10 passes for 121 yards, but the Jets had only six points. Meanwhile, Denver quarterback John Elway was 14 of 19 for 162 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown pass to receiver Cedric Tillman that finished a four-play, 72-yard drive in the last 38 seconds that gave the Broncos a 13-6 halftime lead.
But in Esiason's defense, Denver's attack was more wide open. New York ran on eight of 11 first downs in the first half.
The Jets opened up the offense in the second half because they had no other choice. Esiason had the ball knocked from his hands by Denver outside linebacker Simon Fletcher on the Jets' first possession of the third period, and the Broncos converted the turnover into an Elam 32-yard field goal to put the Broncos ahead, 23-6, with 6:59 left. Elam scored on a 41-yarder nearly two minutes later for a 26-6 Denver advantage.
Esiason, with the help of Denver's prevent defense which allowed some short passes, brought the Jets back on the next possession, throwing a 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end TC Johnny Mitchell, who made a one-handed grab with 10:37 left in the game.
Esiason also had another touchdown pass, this one to receiver Rob Moore on a fade route with 1:51 remaining, to finish a 12-play, 66-yard drive.
But it all came too late.
"Boomer did OK. He took it on himself to rise to the occasion," said Coslet, whose team has not totally caught on to the no-huddle offense he and Esiason ran in Cincinnati.
Esiason said: "Everything we wanted to do worked, so we don't need to go back to the drawing board. We need to improve on some things. After this kind of showing, I expect to see everybody at practice early."