ENGLEWOOD | Winning does not cure all ills in the view of Sean Payton, who isn’t about to let the Denver Broncos feel too good about themselves after his first win as their coach.
Beating the sad-sack Chicago Bears 31-28 on Sunday sure beats giving up 10 touchdowns in a 50-point loss at Miami a week earlier, but the celebration was muted when the Broncos watched the video Monday and found that the blunders exceeded the highlights.
Denver only allowed one sack, but guard Ben Powers was the only O-lineman who didn’t get flagged as the Broncos committed five false starts.
Russell Wilson had his best passer rating as a Bronco, but the offense went into sleep mode for much of the game between an opening-drive touchdown and Denver rattling off 24 unanswered points to edge a team that hasn’t won since last October.
Denver’s much-maligned defense allowed both a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver for the second straight week and allowed Justin Fields to record his first career 300-yard, four-touchdown game before coming up with two takeaways in the fourth quarter.
“I said this to the team just 15 minutes ago, I said, ‘Look, I’m encouraged. We fought back into that game. But man, let’s not … feel like we’re content at all with how we played,’” Payton said Monday. “There are too many things that still are disappointing or things that we have to clean up” both defensively and offensively.
“We stalled there after the first touchdown. We went a third of the game struggling,” Payton said. “But that sense of urgency has to exist again this week. We’re going to play against a lot better teams here in the next month, month and a half.”
That stretch begins with a visit from the New York Jets, who made Patrick Mahomes look ordinary Sunday night and who are still chafed over Payton’s disparaging remarks about them and their offensive coordinator, former Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett, over the summer.
After the upcoming grudge match, Denver faces its nemesis, the Kansas City Chiefs, twice, sandwiched around a game against Green Bay. The Broncos haven’t beaten the Chiefs since Week 2 of the 2015 season.
Falling behind by 21, drawing so many whistles, getting gashed up the middle and burned in the injury-riddled secondary are all things that could spell doom against better competition.
“I think it was great pulling out that win, it shows that we don’t have no quit in us,” running back Jaleel McLaughlin said. “But there’s a lot of things that we have to clean up on the tape.”
Wilson. He has nine touchdown passes and two interceptions through four games. Last year, it took until Week 14 for him to throw his ninth TD pass. His 133.5 passer rating Sunday was his best as a Bronco.
WHAT NEEDS WORK
Stopping the run. Although linebacker Alex Singleton made the play of the day by shooting the gap to stuff Khalil Herbert on fourth-and-1 from the Denver 18 in the closing minutes, the Broncos aren’t sound enough along the defensive front.
Starting in place of Randy Gregory, second-year linebacker Nik Bonitto had 2 1/2 sacks, including a strip-sack that led to Jonathan Cooper’s scoop-and-score for the game-tying touchdown. He also had two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits.
“Nik’s definitely a big-time player for us,” defensive end Zach Allen said. “He’s an elite rusher. He has all the athletic ability in the world. I haven’t played with someone like that since I played with Haason Reddick. I think they’re very similar players. So, he’s growing, still learning, so it’s exciting to see where he’ll be.”
Gregory. He had three tackles in 33 snaps Sunday, better than the zeros he put up in 34 snaps at Miami, but that’s not the production everyone expected when general manager George Payton signed him to a five-year, $70 million contract last year.
RB Javonte Williams (hip) got hurt Sunday, opening the door for McLaughlin, who led the team with 72 yards on just seven carries (a 10.3-yard average) and had three catches for 32 yards, including an 18-yard score.
24 — The Broncos’ run of unanswered points to rally from a 28-7 deficit. That’s tied for the second-biggest comeback in franchise history behind only their 24-point comeback to beat the Chargers on Oct. 15, 2012.
32 — The number of career fourth-quarter comebacks by Wilson, moving him into the top 10 and surpassing Joe Montana and Eli Manning at 31.
After surviving the Basement Battle and avoiding an 0-4 start, the Broncos host the Jets (1-3) on Sunday in a showdown spiced up by Payton calling the coaching job Hackett and his staff did in Denver last year one of the worst in NFL history.