Through the first 7 weeks of the NFL season, one defining image, wide receiver KJ Hamler smashing his helmet on the ground after being left open in the end zone in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts, was the perfect visual to describe the Denver Broncos. Following a hard-fought win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, the team hopes they found a new defining image that they can ride the rest of the season.
Following 3 consecutive three-and-outs and a go-ahead Jaguars touchdown, the Broncos absolutely, positively had to shake themselves out of the offensive funk that has infected the team so often this season and make something happen. Enter Russell Wilson and Hamler.
With less than 4 minutes to go in the game, Wilson opened up this critical fourth-quarter drive with a 47-yard bomb to Hamler down the sideline to set up, at the very least, a tying field goal. For this Broncos offense, a final drive to tie the game with a field goal would seem like a victory given how they’ve played the rest of the season. Wilson, though, would have none of that.
Facing a 3rd and 8, kicker Brandon McManus was all but ready to take the field to tie the game up, but Wilson found his legs, scrambling 10 yards for the first down, later joking that he used high knees (a reference to his story earlier in the week about doing high knee exercises on the airplane mid flight) to move the sticks. 3 plays later, the Broncos found the end zone by way of a Latavious Murray run (his second TD in London this season), Jaguars QB threw a first down interception, and the Broncos were able to hold on for the win.
Victory. A concept that had become foreign once again shined it’s light on the Broncos, and the image of Hamler slamming his helmet in frustration was replaced with something new. During his postgame interview, Wilson was surprised by Hamler, who gave his QB a from-behind bear hug in celebration of their connection and the win. It’s far more pleasing to the eye than the image of him distraught at the back of the end zone.
It was a must-win game for the Broncos who have been coming up short in must-win situations every week. At 2-5 and the joke of the league, it would be easy to think the roster would further shut down, but that wasn’t on Wilson’s mind.
“The thing we keep talking about is unwavering belief, and that’s what happened,” Wilson said after the game.
Sometimes, or even many times, Wilson gets his share of criticism for his cheesy comments and Ned Flanders-like optimism, but it paid off for the Broncos in London. He believed, and he was able to convince his teammates to believe, and for a guy who was recently talked about as producing “growing resentment” in the locker room, that is an excellent sign for the offense moving forward.
Wilson executed his ability as a leader when it mattered most and had his group on board. He said he told the offense, when they were set to start the drive at their own 2-yard line in the third quarter, that they were going to go the full 98 yards for the score. They did. He said before the final drive he told KJ Hamler he was going to find him deep. He did.
Now, this isn’t to say that the offense was perfect on Sunday. In fact, they were still far from it.
Wilson’s first two passes were right to defensive backs in coverage, the second of which got picked off. He was lucky the first one wasn’t. There were still too many three-and-outs, and the team as a whole committed a whopping 12 penalties for 81 yards. And going 2-for-11 on third down? That isn’t cutting it.
This is still far from the well-oiled offensive machine fans were hoping for in the offseason, but for the first time this season, they showed signs of life and executed when the opportunity called for it.
The team eclipsed 300 yards of offense for just the fourth time this season. They were 3-for-3 in the red zone. There was only one dropped pass, and given the rainy conditions, it was somewhat forgivable. And there weren’t any blindly wide open receivers right in front of Wilson’s face that he missed.
The team still has a ways to go to fully recapture the energy produced in the offseason, but for the first time this season, things don’t look so bleak. And it seems the team agrees.
Talking to guys in the locker room, the biggest thing that stood out is how crucial it is for this team to head into the bye with a win. Changes the season outlook.— Romi Bean (@Romi_Bean) October 30, 2022
Couple guys said “it just takes one game”. KJ Hamler said this game could be the spark the season.
Make no mistake about it, going into the bye week with a win, even one that is less than aesthetically pleasing, is a massive difference than heading into it with yet another ugly loss.
For a team with a mantra of “Let’s Ride”, it appears they are finally figuring out how to start the engine. If they can use the bye week to get healthy, rid themselves of some disciplinary issues, and continue to inch closer and closer to becoming a formidable offense, this season may be more salvageable than once imagined,