Courtland Sutton had no touchdowns on Sunday.
But he didn’t need any.
After a critical third-down catch in the Broncos’ final drive of the second quarter, followed soon after by his 33-yard snag along the right sideline, Sutton was a key force in moving the Broncos into Jaguars’ territory and eventually setting up a touchdown to Tim Patrick for the go-ahead score - and a collective sigh of relief from Broncos fans everywhere.
Then Sutton’s 55-yard catch deep across the middle in the Broncos’ first drive of the second half sealed the offense’s destiny against the Jags.
“Oh, yeah, we needed that one,” Sutton said, recalling that his mindset whenever the ball is in the air is that it’s his job to make a play. “Teddy’s giving me an opportunity to go make a play for the offense, for the team, and when the ball’s in the air - we don’t get too many plays in a game - you get opportunities and you’ve got to make the most of them as they come to you in the game.”
It was a catch that head coach Vic Fangio credited with changing the momentum of the game.
“It was great,” Fangio said calling. There’s a lot of big plays in every game, the catch he made in the first drive of the second half there for the big one was critical. I felt they were outplaying us at the ball, both sides of the ball, their DBs against our wideouts and our DBs against their wideouts. We needed to flip that, and [that catch] was an exclamation point, flipping it.”
For the defense, “flipping it” really came from getting burned for an opening drive touchdown and then having a supporting offense stay on the field for eight minutes - even with just scoring a field goal - giving the D a chance to regroup.
And regroup it did.
“It’s always huge if anybody can make a play, get extra possessions to the offense. Offense did a great job today moving the ball, racked up a ton of yards. Put points up. Kept us off the field,” said Kareem Jackson. “And at the end just kind of keeping us off the field. Teddy had tremendous command on the offense. And those guys did a great job today.”
The Jaguars offense went three-and-out on two of its four second-quarter series, and the other two drives stalled out in long field-goal territory, which led to two missed attempts.
To Fangio, the combined progress of offense and defense was the difference in how the game finished compared to how it began.
“But when you’re eventually playing good defense, which we did minus the first drive, and your offense is moving it - and they were moving it,” Fango said, noting that the offense was moving the chains even if not scoring every drive. “We weren’t getting points every time, but I never felt like we were stymied, that we couldn’t move it. You’ll eventually plow your way through it.”
Jags first drive: 83 yards— Phil Milani (@philmilani) September 19, 2021
Rest of the game: 106 yards
Broncos win 23-13
With the offense playing on extended drives and scoring points, the defense could do what this defense was designed to do - play aggressive and allow some bending but never breaking, before ultimately making the big play.
Kareem Jackson came up with a big interception and Von Miller got his third sack of the season. And while impressive, neither was quite as remarkable as rookie corner Patrick Surtain’s first NFL interception.
Matching Tyron Johnson step for step all the way down the sideline to Denver’s six-yard line, PS2 didn’t just break up the pass, he came down with it. Even though the game seemed out of reach by that point, the INT confirmed it.
“That was a hell of a pick,” Fangio said. “Not many corners can make that play. At best most of them get a breakup, but he got the breakup and the pick, so that speaks volumes about his ability.”
Fangio didn’t forget to compliment his rookie running back either. It was a true grind for the running game, but Javonte Williams kept at it, and his 13 carries yielded 64 hard-fought yards, including a 16-yard run and several key first downs.
To Bridgewater, that long run gave the team continued momentum as it followed the drive featuring the wideouts.
“Talking about a guy scrambling, he was scrambling there on that run, breaking tackles, keeping his balance,” Bridgewater said. “It was great to see how the guys really fed off that. You could hear the energy, see the energy on the sideline - and it’s contagious.”
Javonte Williams is a BOSS.— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) September 19, 2021
: CBS pic.twitter.com/Xly8rn6kOG
With all the splash plays on offense and defense, it’s almost easy to overlook what a steadfast performance the quarterback had, throwing over 300 yards, two touchdowns and no picks.
Fangio was asked if this second strong performance would help shake the moniker for Bridgewater that he’s just a “game manager.” He answered the way only Fangio could - abruptly.
“That’s up to you guys. But if he keeps game managing victories, we’ll all love it. He’s just a damn good quarterback,” Fangio said, noting that his calm demeanor under stressful circumstances is perhaps his best trait for this team. “That’s a great quality to have at all positions, especially quarterback, and he has it. It’s just in his DNA. I’d like to tell you that we have coached that into him, but we didn’t. We got it when we signed him and that’s who he is.”
Despite all the good in the victory, there was still plenty to pick on for needed improvement - most notably special teams, which allowed a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Jamal Agnew.
But Bridgewater first highlighted how he and the offense need to get better.
“I think we got out to a fast start. But not fast enough. If we could have responded to them scoring the touchdown with our own touchdowns, then you could talk about getting off to a better start,” he said. “Just keep putting an emphasis on starting fast, being greedy. And hopefully get out on the first drive … just punch them in.”
Noah Fant, who helped the offense do that, agreed the stalled drives aren’t going to cut it when playing teams with a more high-powered offense.
“Eliminating the dead drives and just constantly trying to get points, especially in crucial parts of the game,” Fant said. “I think that’s where we can take another step and really put daggers in teams late in the game with scoring drives.”
Fangio called the kickoff return “disappointing” Sunday after the game and noted some coverage breakdowns on Monday after having watched the tape.
“We had some bad stacking in there where we could have stacked the blocker on our back a little more and made the play,” he said, noting a bad angle that prevented Denver from making the stop. “We could have tackled it at the 25 [yard line]. We had a bad angle there. Obviously, we need to fix that.”
But if there was something that made Fangio the most upset, it was the 10 penalties.
“The penalties [were] way out of whack. We have to cut those out,” he said, specifically noting the unnecessary ones like false starts, offsides, after-the-whistle personal fouls. “Those are just bullshit. We’ve got to eliminate them.”
Fangio on penalties: "Those are just bullshit."— Doctor of Words (and tights) (@docllv) September 20, 2021
Is this "grumpy" or straight up pissed? https://t.co/a4MuqGd3mh
That will definitely be a goal for the team before Denver hosts its first home game of the 2021 season - and first time in over a year to have a genuine Mile High crowd.
That in itself is enough to want to be better. But coming home two-time winners on the road the past few weeks and wanting to keep the victory train rolling is also a major incentive.
“I expect an electric stadium, so buckle yourself down,” Fangio said. “That stadium is going to be alive and well,” Fangio said, adding how impressed he has been with Denver sports fans overall and Broncos Country in particular. “I can’t wait to get there, but I’m going to try to calm myself down and put in a good solid week of work.”
Another guy really looking forward to the home crowd is Mr. Franchise himself, Von Miller.
“It’s going to be cool. It’s going to be cool. We love Broncos country, Broncos country loves us. It’s going to be great arriving there 2-0,” the premiere edge rusher said. “I know the fans can appreciate that. We’re just going to keep trying to ride the wave. Doesn’t really matter who we’re playing against, we’re playing against ourselves. If we can play our best ball, I feel comfortable with our odds in any game. We’ve got a great squad, we’ve got great fans. It’ll be good to get back in Mile High and play in front of those guys. I know it’s going to be rocking, and I’m looking forward to it.”
His new quarterback is too.
“Can’t wait to get back home. 2-0, get to play in front of a packed Denver Broncos stadium. I get to experience it this time playing for the Broncos,” he said, recalling playing at Mile High in 2015, the year the Broncos won Super Bowl 50, when he was QB for the Vikings. “I can tell you right now, it’s not a fun sight. Looking forward to that.”