After three arduous weeks, and a nervous first half, the Sean Payton era has finally delivered its first win in Broncos country. It wasn’t pretty, it was the furthest thing from assured and by no mean perfect, but Payton and the Broncos won’t care, they’re now in the win column and anything can happen from here.
So on the first victory week of the season, here are my takeaways from the Broncos’ road win against the Chicago Bears.
A win is always sweet, but a win from 28-7 down is a beautiful way to win a game. From a team standpoint in the long term, it also provides a reason to be positive for Broncos fans as well.
The team showed great poise, grit and determination to rally around each other after halftime and provided that they can play complimentary football, they can be a watchable team.
It’s refreshing to see all three phases of play contributing to a win especially after they had their backs against the wall on the road in a crucial game for the season.
These are the types of performances that seasons can hinge upon and momentum may well be swinging in Denver’s favour now heading into week five.
It always seems to be the way, every year the Broncos manage to unearth one or two gem rookie players that make an impact in orange and blue.
This Sunday it was the turn of undrafted running back, Jaleel McLaughlin, out of Youngstown State to make his impact known to the NFL world.
The shifty and elusive runner saw more involvement in the offence after Javonte Williams left the game early with a hip injury and he made his opportunity count.
McLaughlin put up 72 yards on the ground and 32 in the receiving game as well as scoring the Broncos’ first touchdown of the day.
His change of direction and quick burst of acceleration was something the Bears defensive line couldn’t handle all day.
The performance in the second half was pleasing from the offence, defence and special teams, it felt like after halftime something finally clicked under this new leadership group.
The offence was moving the ball well and looked like they could attack the Bears on the ground or through the air if they needed to and they just couldn’t be stopped.
The defence finally started to make some plays and recorded two turnovers in the fourth quarter which swung the game in the Broncos’ favour.
This was the moment that Broncos fans had been waiting an eternity for, well-executed football in every area of the game and giving themselves every chance of winning the game.
First half defence
Despite the positives, there were obvious red flags throughout the game and those came mostly during the first half when the Broncos found themselves 21-7 down going into the half in a must-win game to keep their season alive.
Credit to Justin Fields, the former Ohio State dual-threat quarterback had his best game as a pro on Sunday and he showed the potential that his talent can elevate him to.
However, he was also helped by Vance Joseph’s incredibly soft defensive coverages and a plethora of blown zone assignments.
Joseph played off-man coverage packages far too often, giving Fields easy quick passing options and with the current lack of pass rush Fields just picked the Broncos apart in the air.
On three crucial games in the half, middle linebacker Alex Singleton lost tight end, Cole Kmet, in zone coverage, once for a big third down catch and twice for a touchdown.
In these ill-disciplined moments, games can be won and lost and although the Broncos fell on the right side of the win this week, they are 1-2 in one-score games through the first four weeks of the season and with better pass coverage they could well be 3-0.
Speaking of discipline, the flags against the Broncos once again totted up this week.
33 penalties have been called against the Broncos already this season and they committed seven this week.
It’s not necessarily the frequency of the penalties they’re giving up, it’s when they occur and the nature of them.
Four false start penalties were called on Sunday and too often the Broncos find themselves on the backfoot on offensive drives due to poor penalties surrendering momentum before they’ve even begun.
Week five preview
It can be easy to get carried away, especially after a win which has been so long in the making, but the Broncos now need to carry their late-game momentum into another winnable game next week at home to the New York Jets.
The game comes packed with storylines, none fierier than the battle between sidelines, after Sean Payton’s comments about former Broncos head coach, Nathaniel Hackett’s work with the team last year.
Hackett failed to make a full season as head coach of the Broncos despite so much preseason hype, and after Payton was hired this offseason he called it, “one of the worst coaching jobs in history.”
Hackett is now the offensive coordinator of the Jets and he will be hoping to cause an upset back in Mile High, but he will be without future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Instead, third-year quarterback, Zach Wilson will be under centre for the Jets and after a promising Monday Night Football performance against the Kansas City Chiefs, the former BYU man will be hoping to come away with his first win of the season as a starter.
Away from the headlines, the Broncos will hopefully be buoyed by the probable return of safety Justin Simmons, while Baron Browning has entered his window to be activated off of the PUP list.
Safety, PJ Locke and cornerback, K’Waun Williams can both be activated off of the injury reserve list this week getting help to the secondary.
Hopefully, Frank Clark and Josey Jewell can return to the defence, after an extra weekend of rest missing the Bears game on Sunday, and add some more power to the front seven.
Whether the Broncos were 4-0 or 1-3 heading into this week Broncos Country and Mile High were always going to be fired up for this one, and it will be some atmosphere as this war of words finally takes to the field at 9:25 pm BST on Sunday.