After a disappointing loss on Christmas Eve night, the Denver Broncos bounced back on New Year's Eve night and ended the year with a victory. They defeated the Los Angeles Chargers by the score of 16-9 and finished up their season sweep of their division rivals.
After a drama-filled week that saw Russell Wilson get benched and a mud-slinging contest between the Broncos and Wilson’s reps, this game was pretty uneventful. Outside of one big play by the Broncos that resulted in the game’s lone touchdown, not much happened. It was a kind of a boring game and even though they came away with the victory, they were eliminated from the postseason with wins by the Chiefs and Steelers.
So, let us take a look at the winners and losers from the Broncos' 16-9 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.
QB Jarrett Stidham
Listen, it wasn’t a “wow” great performance from Stidham, but all things considered, he held his own considering the tough circumstances. He was replacing Wilson in a move that has split the fan base and has been focused on by the national media.
All eyes were on Stidham because head coach Sean Payton said he benched Russell Wilson for him because he was looking to get a “spark” out of the offense. We did not really see that, but Stidham held his own and picked up his first victory in the NFL.
Jarrett Stidham: "What a cool feeling it is to get my first NFL win."— Aric DiLalla (@AricDiLalla) January 1, 2024
Said he texted his wife right away when he got back to his locker.
Also added that it's not about him. Called it a great team win and credited the defense and special teams.
He finished the game by going 20-32 for 224 yards and 1 touchdown. He did this without Courtland Sutton who has been the Broncos lone weapon on offense this season and rookie speedster Marvin Mims Jr. who suffered a hamstring injury this week.
So, all things considered, he performed well enough, got the win, and will look to build on this performance next week vs. the Raiders in the season finale.
RB Jaleel McLaughlin
Is undrafted rookie Jaleel McLaughlin the Broncos best running back? He sure looks like it. He led the Broncos in rushing yards with 44 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry on five touches. He added three receptions for 18 yards to give him a total of 11 touches for 62 yards.
While he does not have the size to be the Broncos lead back, he has proven he can be a productive back and be a solid scat back/receiving threat for them in the future.
WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey
The star of the game was big Lil’Jordan Humphrey who had a highlight-reel touchdown reception where he broke multiple tacklers and went 54 yards for the Broncos' lone touchdown.
Jarrett Stidham finds big Lil'Jordan Humphrey for a 54-yard touchdown to give the Broncos a 10-3 leadpic.twitter.com/F8g21Ukv79— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) December 31, 2023
It was an incredible play and likely the Broncos best offensive play of the year and was the difference in this game. Humphrey finished the game with just 2 receptions for 69 yards but his 54-yard touchdown was the difference in this game.
S P.J. Locke
With Kareem Jackson sidelined with a suspension and now released, P.J. Locke has shown he can be a starter in this league and performed well once again in this one. He is a downhill player who can hit the ball carrier/receiver legally and hard.
He will be a free agent this offseason and he has earned himself some money on the free agent market. I would not be surprised if he was made a priority by the Broncos this offseason.
RB Javonte Williams
His return from a knee injury has been great but he has not been great this year. He has shown flashes of his powerful play at times this season but his production is lacking. He rushed the ball 15 times for 41 yards in this game. He averaged 2.7 yards per carry and was outgained and outplayed by undrafted rookie Jaleel McLaughlin.
With the Broncos likely going with a rookie quarterback next year, their run game will need to improve next season. Williams is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry this season and only has found the end zone twice. That’s not great and the Broncos need either more from him or they need to improve on this position this offseason.
WR Jerry Jeudy
Jeudy had a chance to have a breakout game this year with Sutton and Mims sidelined but that did not happen. He did have one big chunk play before the end of the first half but outside of that? It was a quiet game by the Broncos former first-round pick.
He had a few drops early on and never really made a big impact on this game. This is frustrating when we see CeeDee Lamb go off for 200 yards on Saturday and watch as he and Justin Jefferson turn into two of the best wide receivers in the game. Jeudy was picked before both players and his production has severely lacked.
Head coach Sean Payton benched Russell Wilson hoping to get a spark from his offense that has struggled in recent weeks. Unfortunately, that did not happen even though the Broncos were able to come away with the win.
They only scored 16 points, missed opportunities and had issues in the red zone and with penalties in this one. Sure, they were down their best playmaker, their rookie speedster, and starting their backup quarterback for the first time this season.
Realistically, we should have expected something similar to this but with the drama that has happened this week, it would have been nice to see the offense perform a bit better against the Chargers.
Even with their victory, the Broncos have been eliminated from the postseason because of wins by the Chiefs and Steelers.
Despite a midseason surge, this team was not ready to make the playoffs but they showed they can be contenders. Hopefully, they can build on this season and be right back in it next season and make the playoffs next time around.