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Even in preseason loss, Sean Payton encouraged with team’s progress

Russell Wilson and the running game took big strides forward on Saturday night.

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Denver Broncos v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The second preseason game was another one-point loss at the buzzer for the Orange and Blue, but head coach Sean Payton was pretty happy with how the team played overall.

“I was encouraged in a lot of areas tonight,” he said after the game. “I thought we did a good job with the turnover takeaways but we ran the ball. I also thought we defended the run well. I certainly would’ve liked to have won, but I was pleased with pretty much most of that game.”

Although both losses have come in the final moments at the end of the games, Payton liked that his defense was forcing field goals instead of allowing touchdowns.

“You know, it’s two weeks in a row that we’ve given up a drive for a field goal instead of a touchdown, but again, there were a lot of things tonight that were different than a week ago that I was encouraged by and pleased with,” he said.

The coach also believed protection for the QB was better - and that said QB also made some better decisions.

“I thought on protection we were better. I thought Russ did a good job of tucking it a few times,” Payton added. “Our time of possession was good and I thought we ran the ball a little bit better than a week ago.”

When it came to defense, Payton noted some of the situations that still need work - mainly receiver screens and bootlegs - but praised the team’s run-stopping.

“I thought inside we were pretty stout. We didn’t defend the boots very well early on and we didn’t defend the receiver screens. We haven’t stopped one of those yet, but I thought we defended some of the runs that these guys present and then forced a field goal with the first group,” he said. “And that was encouraging.”

The head coach was also particularly happy with how Russell Wilson handled his limited time on the field. Throwing for just 24 yards but also running for 25, Wilson looked improved and comfortable.

“I thought he looked sharp,” Payton said. “Yeah, he looked sharp.”

Wilson was also pleased with his performance as well as the entire team’s, especially going up against an always well-coached team.

“Yeah, I thought we did a great job. I thought the offensive line did a tremendous job with protection. I thought that they did a really good job of giving me space,” he said. “I was able to step up and get the ball out of my hand quickly to the right guys at the right time and then obviously scramble for some really big first downs using my legs.”

The quarterback added that there’s more work to do but he’s excited about where the offense is now.

“To go out with our first team offense, play well and battle and do the things that we’re able to do, it feels great,” he said. “It’s a good measure of where we can be and where we can go.”

Another bright spot Saturday night was the running game.

With the debut of Javonte Williams after missing most of last season due to a knee injury in October, and a second straight week of explosive play from UDFA Jaleel McLaughlin, the Broncos rushing attack looks promising heading into the regular season.

McLaughlin was the leading rusher with 45 yards on the ground plus a touchdown as well as eight yards in the air and a receiving touchdown.

“I am really just locked in,” he said post-game. “I just want to thank all of those guys up front. The tight ends, the fullbacks, receivers blocking down the field, it is a blessing to be able to run behind those guys.”

Williams, whose return to the field since the injury in has been way ahead of schedule, said getting tackled was a huge step in his comeback.

“It was really all about just getting the nerves off. I just wanted to get tackled again and to see how it felt. That’s the biggest hurdle I had left with the whole recovery process,” Williams said, adding that “getting it out of the way” was good. “It was just like a weight had been lifted off me,” I was thinking that it was going to hurt, but I really didn’t feel it. I jumped right back up.”

Officiating was a different story. Not giving the Broncos time on the clock at the end of the first half essentially took points away from Denver - and Payton was less than pleased, (clearly saying to the official “that’s bullshit” after the call).

The coach’s language was less colorful after the game.

“I was a little disappointed at the end of the half because I felt like we had time left. Obviously they felt that we didn’t,” he said. “It’s pretty easy to get right, and I think they missed it, but it is what it is.”

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