JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — To help acclimate for the early start time and long flight, Broncos head coach Vic Fangio flew his team here Friday evening, a night earlier than usual.
About halfway through the second quarter, there was reason to wonder if Fangio should have brought the team down Thursday.
The Jaguars gave the Denver D an immediate wakeup call on a muggy, soggy mid-September Sunday afternoon at TIAA Bank Field by efficiently marching 83 yards to score a touchdown on the opening drive.
"We had our hands full,'' Fangio said. "Jacksonville went down the field on us on that first drive., beat us outside some. Theyt got the touchdown drive which kind of lit up their crowd, lit up their team. Their team came in ready to play.”
Luckily for the two-night visitors, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has all the panic of a man in a deep slumber. The man has zero anxiety.
Bridgewater rallied the Broncos past the Jaguars, 23-13 as he threw red-zone touchdown passes to Tim Patrick near the end of the first half and Noah Fant to cap the first drive of the second half.
Bridgewater is one of only four quarterbacks in NFL history who in the first two games of the season threw for at least two touchdown passes with no interceptions and at least a 75 completiion percentage in each. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Jeff George were the others.
And Bridgewater pulled the trick with a new team. It's not supposed to be this easy.
“No, it’s never easy, man,'' he said in an exclusive postgame interview with 9NEWS. "It’s just a product of our hard work. We talk about how you win on Sunday by how we prepare during the week. And we’ve had two great weeks of preparation and of course we can always be better.
"We get another opportunity next week, we play the New York Jets. At home. 2-0. That place is going to be rockin’ so looking forward to that.”
Jacksonville's Jamal Agnew returned a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown -- special teams! -- with 5:26 remaining to keep the Broncos paying attention through until the end. But the Broncos did as Bridgewater took a couple knees with the Broncos inside the Jacksonville 5-yard line.
The Broncos are now 2-0 while Jacksonville fell to 0-2.
But off the bus, it appeared the Broncos were in trouble. Jacksonville rookie quarterback and No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence had plenty of protection and receivers running free on his scripted first series as he completed 5 passes for 73 yards, including a beautiful 25-yard touchdown to Marvin Jones Jr., who beat cornerback Kyle Fuller on a sideline-and-go pattern.
The Broncos were down quickly, 7-0.
Bridgewater calmly answered the Jaguars’ opening statement by leading the Broncos on two sustain drives to put Denver up 10-7 at halftime. And then for the second week in a row, Bridgewater was terrrific on the opening second half drive to put the Broncos in control of the game.
Bridgewater hit Courtland Sutton on a fly pattern for a 55-yard gain just after intermission, which set up a 14-yard touchdown pass to Noah Fant. That put the Broncos up 17-7 early in the third quarter.
"Courtland Sutton came up big,'' Fangio said. "You know, I didn’t think we were winning the 50-50 balls in the first half on either side of the ball. And he went out there and won that first one right off the bat with the first drive in the second half. Which was a key play in that game.”
Bridgewater finished 26 of 34 for 328 yards and two touchdowns for a remarkable 125.6 passer rating.
The difference between last year's 5-11 Broncos and the 2021 version?
Sutton is back. Von is back (he got his third sack in two games). And Denver has a quarterback.
Sutton was the Broncos’ leading receiver with 9 catches for a 159 yards, both career-bests. Yes, Courtland is back, and just in time as the Broncos' other top receiver, Jerry Jeudy, is out a while with a high ankle sprain.
"It’s great to see Courtland go out there and have the game that he had,'' Bridgewater said. "A career day in receiving yards. Great to be a part of. Everyone knows Court has worked extremely hard (to return from ACL surgery) so everything that’s coming his way right now he deserves. He’s been quiet. He’s been grinding trying to get back to that Pro Bowl-caliber receiver that we know he is and today he did a great job of showing us that.”
Sutton got a game ball, as did defensive backs Kareem Jackson and Pat Surtain II, who each had an interception off Lawrence. Jackson is the oldest Broncos player at 33 and Surtain is the second youngest at 21 (11 days older than running back Javonte Williams, who led all rushers with 64 yards on 11 carries).
"That was the model going in,'' Surtain told 9NEWS. "I told K-Jack before I knew he was going to make a play. And he told me I was going to make a play. So it goes hand to hand and they were both tremendous plays.'
After Lawrence connected with Jones for the early score to put the Broncos on alert, Denver got a break on the ensuing drive when cornerback Shaquill Griffin was called for holding on third-and-long while he was covering tight end Albert Okwuegbunam well away from where Bridgewater threw an incompletion. The first down by penalty, and accurate Bridgewater passing, moved the Broncos to first and goal at the 10. At which point Bridgewater, who had stepped out of a sack for a completion earlier in the drive, couldn’t shake the pursuing edge rusher Josh Allen, who dropped the Broncos’ quarterback for a 16-yard loss.
Still, the Broncos broke Jags’ momentum with an 8 minute, 55 second drive that finished with a Brandon McManus 33-yard field goal.
“It definitely did,'' Bridgewater said. "We talk about starting fast, we talk about responding. We did a good job of responding but we wanted to respond with a touchdown. But it was good to get points on that drive and ultimately get something going. Get everyone involved and it led to our success today.”
McManus added a 46-yard field goal late in the third quarter and 40-yarder midway through the fourth quarter and is 5 of 5 in field goals 5 of 5 in 33-yard, extra points through nearly two games this season.
The first quarter ended with Jacksonville up, 7-3, but the Denver D came through a three-and-out on its second series to settle things down.
It stayed that way until about 5 minutes left in the half. After the rookie Williams was tackled behind the line of scrimmage, the Broncos’ drive was facing second and 16 at its own 14. At which point Bridgewater went to work. His best play was a 33-yard, touch pass completion to Sutton that moved the ball from the Broncos’ 40 to the Jaguars’ 27.
“That’s a play we’ve been working the past couple weeks,'' Bridgewater said. "It was great to see, man, all our practice on display, on Sunday. We’re executing, guys are having fun and it’s fun when you win. Hopefully we can keep this feeling going, keep building. Keep raising the level of expectations around here. And hopefully we can be a good football team.”
The play occurred as Bridgewater was under pressure, then stepped up in the pocket to a clearing. He calmly saw Sutton scramble his route towards the end zone and Bridgewater hit him perfectly.
"That's Teddy being Teddy. No play is dead until they blow the whistle,'' Sutton said.
Bridgewater then completed a 15-yard pass to Kendall Hinton – his first NFL game as a receiver after breaking in memorably as an emergency quarterback last season – and, after the 2-minute warning, connected with an open Patrick on a drag route for the touchdown.
Jacksonville could have been leading but kicker Josh Lambo missed field goals from 52 and 48 yards. But the Denver D made the necessary adjustments on Lawrence, who was just 9 of 26 for 35 yards and two interceptions after his first drive.
“Wasn’t a lot of adjustments,'' said Fangio, who is also in charge of the defense. "Changed up what I was calling a little bit but not totally. We just played a little better.”
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