Well, that was unexpected.
Here’s what we learned about the Broncos (1-3) on Sunday.
Denver finally showed up in the second half
In the first three games this season, the Broncos were MIA in the second half.
Whatever the reason for the script change on Sunday, Payton and Denver finally showed up in the second half. And it was a complete team effort as well – offense, defense and special teams. The only other half the Broncos looked better was the first half against the Washington Commanders.
Credit to Payton, the coaches and the players for the showing on Sunday. And doing so down 21 points.
Russell Wilson played incredibly well
After leading a touchdown on the first drive of the game, the Denver offense was bad.
But Wilson and the Broncos looked completely different in the second half. Down 21 points, he led two touchdown drives to cut the Bears’ lead to 28-21. Then after getting the ball back with two minutes, 52 seconds remaining in the game, Wilson drove Denver into field goal position that led to the game-winning points.
For the game, Wilson was 21-for-28 passing for 223 yards and three touchdowns. The key stat? No turnovers.
The other stat that shows how well Wilson played, and the offense, is the success in the red zone. Denver was 3-for-3 in the red zone with three touchdowns. That and no turnovers is a recipe to win games.
By the way, Wilson and the Broncos have scored touchdowns on 3-of-4 opening drives this season.
Jaleel McLaughlin and Marvin Mims need more action
Two of the reasons the Broncos offense clicked were the rookies. That’s especially true for McLaughlin who played really well as a runner and catcher.
Mims just continues to make big plays. Mims caught the first pass on the eventual game-winning drive, a 48-yard pass. He also had a 25-yard punt return that gave the Broncos offense good field position on the drive that cut Chicago’s lead to 28-21.
For the game, Mims had two catches for 47 yards.
McLaughlin had 72 yards rushing on seven carries and three receptions for 32 yards, including a touchdown.
Since Javonte Williams left the game with a hip injury, we should see a lot more of McLaughlin. Mims needs to get more plays directed his way.
The Broncos defense still isn’t very good, but ...
In the first half, Denver made Justin Fields look like Patrick Mahomes.
But the Broncos defense was much better in the second half, forcing key stops and creating turnovers with one leading to the game-tying touchdown.
Hopefully, that showing in the second half gives the unit some confidence.
Still, the tackling issues remain a huge issue and Denver was gashed on the ground. If you’re looking ahead to Week 5 against the New York Jets, both could be liabilities for the Broncos. On Sunday, Denver allowed 171 yards rushing and 5.5 yards per carry.
The good news is the Broncos did a much better job pressuring the quarterback. Denver recorded four sacks and nine QB hits.
Nik Bonitto had a day
No doubt about it, Bonitto had the best game of his young career.
The Denver edge finished with 2.5 sacks, two QB hits, two tackles for loss and four tackles (three solo). Helluva day for Bonitto. Here’s hoping he can use this and become a consistent disrupter for the defense.
Mental mistakes remain a problem
Of the seven penalties, five were false starts on the Broncos offensive line. At least two of them happened in short-yardage situations on third down. These kinds of mental mistakes must be fixed, and it’s on Payton and his coaching staff to get them corrected.
The good news is it didn’t cost Denver on Sunday.
Bears coaches bailed Denver out
The decision to go for it on fourth-down with under 3 minutes remaining and in field goal position isn’t the problem.
It was the play call and taking the ball out of the hands of Fields.
Why every single NFL coach doesn’t follow the lead of the Philadelphia Eagles and do the tush-push in those fourth-and-shorts is beyond me. I have often felt coaches overthink situations like that and the decision by Matt Eberfuls and Luke Gesty just made no sense.
Since that was the play call, take the three points and force Wilson and the Broncos to have a longer field.
A win is a win
For the first time this season, Broncos Country experiences a Victory Monday.
I’m not sure how I feel about this given the Broncos still aren’t very good. But there are areas that Payton, his staff and the players can take from this and build on.
And since Denver plays the Jets next week, this could lead to a winning streak.