The Denver Broncos fell to a disappointing 0-2 record after blowing a three-score lead to the Washington Commanders. At one point in the game, the Broncos led by the score of 21-3, but from that point on, the Commanders went on to score 32 points while the Broncos just managed 12 points, and half of those came off a hail-mary touchdown. So, they have lost two winnable games to start the season and now are at 0-2 as they head into the “hard part” of their schedule.
This game was a tale of two halves. In the first half, the Broncos looked great and we were looking at a potential blowout and multiple winners. Unfortunately, the second half was rough for a second straight week and it led to another disappointing loss. So, we are looking at a number of losers in this one once again.
So, here are my winners and losers from the Broncos' 33-35 loss to the Washington Commanders.
First Half Russell Wilson
The Broncos offense and quarterback Russell Wilson started out hot in this one. He led the Broncos to three scoring drives, including a beautiful 60-yard moonball touchdown to rookie wide receiver Marvin Mims Jr. He later hit second-year wide receiver Brandon Johnson for a touchdown to give the Broncos a three-score lead.
This was the best Wilson looked in the Broncos uniform and it looked like the beginning of a huge game from Wilson. Unfortunately, that did not happen, but we’ll touch on that more later.
For a second straight week, Wilson has thrown for 2+ touchdown passes, moved the offense well, and looked like a good quarterback. Unfortunately, it has not led to any victories but still promising to see Sean Payton’s effect on him and the improvements he has made since last season.
Marvin Mims Jr.
The rookie wide receiver had a bit of a coming-out party in this one. He caught a pair of long balls, including a 60-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Russell Wilson. At the end of the day, Mims finished the game with two receptions for 113 yards and 1 touchdown.
He showcased his deep speed and his ability to be a down-the-field weapon for the Broncos offense. This is why he was drafted and it was exciting to see him thrive when given this opportunity. It would have been nice to see Mims get more targets and chances in this one but we will touch on that more later.
I believe as the season moves on, we will see more and more plays like this from Marvin Mims. The Broncos' defense does not look good and the offense will need to continue to throw the ball to stay competitive in these games against tougher competition. So, this could be the beginning of some very good play from the Broncos explosive rookie.
Mims was not the only Broncos receiver to make some plays in this one. Second-year wide receiver Brandon Johnson came up big for the Broncos in this game and caught two touchdown passes.
Johnson finished the game with two receptions for 66 yards and two touchdowns. The majority of his yardage came on the hail-mary play where he hauled in the deflected pass for a touchdown in the closing seconds, but it still was an impressive day for the former undrafted rookie. He set career highs in yardage and touchdowns in this one and showed that he too can be an effective pass catcher for them moving forward.
Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph
For a second straight week, the Broncos' defense led by Vance Joseph struggled and ended up costing them a win. I had him on this last week despite his defense only giving up 16 points, and some questioned it. However, this week, there is no denying it after his defense allowed Sam Howell and the Commanders offense score 35 points against them.
Howell, who is making his third career start, carved up the Broncos secondary and finished the afternoon with 299 yards passing, 2 touchdown passes, and a quarterback rating of 108.8. These were all career highs for the second-year quarterback.
On the ground, his defense allowed the Commanders' ball carriers to carry the ball 23 times for 122 yards and 2 touchdowns. They averaged 5.3 yards per carry on the ground and were gashing the Broncos through the air and on the ground.
Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy out-coached his former college teammate in this one as well. Joseph had their number early on, but Bieniemy made adjustments and the Broncos had no answers for the rest of the game. Joseph was sending pressure throughout in this one, but the Commanders adjusted and utilized the screen game to get multiple chunk plays in this one. It was just a poor overall showing by Joseph who has been out-coached in back-to-back weeks by Josh McDaniels and Eric Bieniemy.
Finally, it was just the poor angles, poor tackling, lack of adjustments, and bad overall play from the Broncos' defense. This unit has taken a major step backwards under Joseph, which does not surprise some of you, and does not look like the defense we were used to seeing the past few seasons.
Second half Russell Wilson
First half Russell Wilson was great, for a second straight week, but for whatever reason, Wilson and the Broncos offense have been really struggling in the second half of games.
As I noted above, Wilson and the Broncos offense looked unstoppable in the first half. He led three scoring drives, threw a 60-yard touchdown, and totaled two touchdowns in the first half of the game. However, he and the offense completely disappeared after that.
He had a fumble in the second quarter which began the Commanders' comeback and then later threw his first interception of the season which aided their comeback even more. He only managed to lead the Broncos to a couple of field-goal drives in the second half before he connected on the hail-mary in the closing seconds.
Whatever Payton and the Broncos are doing in the second half of games, they need to scrap it. They lost two close games because of their ineffective play in the second half of games on both sides of the ball.
Another trend that is popping up is veteran safety Kareem Jackson concussing opposing players. He did it in the final moments of their week one matchup vs. the Raiders and did it again in this one, this time, knocking tight end Logan Thomas out of the game.
He was fined for his hit in the first game against Raiders wide receiver Jakobi Myers but could be facing more severe punishment after this one. Jackson was ejected from the game because of this hit, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting that the league is reviewing this hit and if he will face any further punishment from the league.
Source: NFL will be reviewing and discussing Monday whether Broncos’ safety Kareem Jackson should be disciplined for this hit on Commanders’ TE Logan Thomas one week after Jackson was fined $14,189 for his hit on Jakobi Meyers that left the Raiders’ WR with a concussion. pic.twitter.com/XOJUrZUFXZ— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 18, 2023
He is facing another fine, likely a bit higher than his first one, but how hefty is the question, but could they do more? Jackson is known for being a hard hitter and now has had two ugly hits in back-to-back weeks, so I believe they will strongly consider suspending the veteran safety. The league is sensitive about this sort of thing, and rightfully so, so Jackson could be facing some hefty punishment from the league here in the next couple of days.
Broncos run game
On paper, the Broncos rushing attack had the same amount of carries and rushing attempts than the Commanders. However, when you start looking at the numbers, the Broncos' rushing attack was not as successful as the Commanders rushing attack.
The Broncos rushed the ball 23 times for 122 yards and 1 touchdown in this one. However, if you remove quarterback Russell Wilson’s 6 rushing attempts for 56 yards, it paints a very different picture.
Javonte Williams had another mediocre outing where he rushed the ball 12 times for 44 yards and averaged 3.7 yards per carry. Meanwhile, veteran Samaje Perine, running back Jaleel McLaughlin, and fullback Michael Burton combined for 3 carries for 12 yards. McLaughin’s one touch did go for a touchdown, but still, we all expected more from these guys this season. Perine also had one carry and just four targets in the passing game. The Broncos gave him a modest contract this offseason and so far, it has been a disappointing first year for the veteran running back.
As for Javonte Williams, I know he is coming off a major knee injury and is WAY ahead of schedule, but his lack of dynamic play-making ability is showing up. Averaging just 3.7 yards per carry is not what you want to see. On the year, he just has 25 carries for 96 yards, 0 touchdowns, and is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. The Broncos run game was supposed to be a strength, but so far, that has not really proven to be the case. I understand he may not be 100% yet, but overall, the Broncos run game is lacking and not really scaring opposing defenses.