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Bridgewater leads Broncos into pivotal game against Herbert and the Chargers

Himself a free agent season's end, Bridgewater has helped 5 receivers get paid big money in 8-month period.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The team stretch was finished and the Broncos were about to hold their first practice after the bye week.

Before breaking into groups for position-specific drills, Teddy Bridgewater gathered the players in a team huddle. It was almost eerily quiet as the players obeyed to request to gather. What Bridgewater told his teammates on a warm Monday afternoon remains with the players – head coach Vic Fangio stood a few yards away watching but out of earshot – but it appears the quarterback was reminding his guys of the opportunity ahead.

After a minute or so, observers heard, ONE, TWO, THREE, BRONCOS!

And off they dispersed.

“It’s one message,’’ Bridgewater said at his weekly press conference Wednesday. “And that’s what’s most important. Coach, he sets the tone with his message and we trickle it within our unit.’’

If you thought the furor over his non-tackle attempt during a touchdown fumble return two weeks ago was going to cause Bridgewater to shy away from his leadership mantle, think again. The Broncos are 5-5 and can get back in playoff and AFC West Division title contention by defeating the Los Angeles Chargers this Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High.

“Why not? Big opportunity moving forward,’’ Bridgewater said. “We know what’s at stake. We come into this building every day with the mindset of one day at a time but there’s a lot at stake.’’

The NFL and NBC network executives must like the Broncos’ chances because they moved their following week’s game at Kansas City from the earliest, 11 a.m. MST start Sunday to the latest kickoff time of 6:20 p.m. for the primetime audience of Sunday Night Football that will be seen on 9News. True, the game’s top draw is quarterback Patrick Mahomes II of the 7-4, division-leading Chiefs. But Bridgewater is capable of giving a game to both Mahomes next week and Chargers’ QB sensation Justin Herbert this Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High.

It appears Broncos Country has been slow to embrace Bridgewater whether it’s because of their allegiance to previous starter Drew Lock or Teddy’s solid-if-unspectacular style. The non-tackle in the Broncos’ previous game against the Eagles further puts Bridgewater in position where he must perform well -- or else.

But there are at least five receivers he’s worked with the past two seasons who would say Bridgewater has already been good enough. Three Carolina receivers who caught passes from Bridgewater last season – Curtis Samuel (three years, $34.5 million with Washington), Robby Anderson (2 years, $29 million extension) and D.J. Moore (fifth-year option exercised at $11.12 million) – were paid handsomely in the spring.

And in a three-day span over this past weekend, Broncos’ receivers Courtland Sutton (four years, $60.8 million) and Tim Patrick (three years, $30 million) were locked up for a combined $90.8 million.

“I’m extremely proud of those guys,’’ Bridgewater said before bestowing kind words on both Patrick and Sutton.

Complain about Bridgewater if you must. But his No. 11 ranking among NFL quarterbacks on the strength of his 69.2 completion percentage and 14 touchdown passes against just 5 interceptions is as good as the Broncos could have hoped when they acquired him in late-April from Carolina in exchange for a sixth-round draft pick. And in the Broncos’ five wins, Bridgewater has completed 74.5 percent of his passes with 6 touchdown passes and zero picks.

Bridgewater himself is in the final 7 games of his one-year, $11.5 million deal. Would he, too, like an extension?

“Man, I’m just taking it one day a time,’’ he said. “Focus on the Chargers this week. I never get caught up in that type of stuff. I always tell my agent (Kennard McGuire), my advisor, you guys handle all the other stuff, I just want to play football.

“Whether they are or they aren’t, it doesn’t matter to me right now because I have seven games to focus on. And right now as a team, as a football player, I’ve just got to focus on the Chargers this week. Guys are motivated by it (the Patrick/Sutton extensions). But at the same time whatever’s for you, is for you. And it will happen when it’s supposed to happen. … It’s not that important to me. The most important thing to me right now is winning this home game against the Chargers.’’

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