AFC South Reporter
It feels like the whole NFL world has gotten its jokes off about the Denver Broncos, especially Russell Wilson.
When the nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback — in the worst stretch of his career — told reporters earlier this week how he was doing high knees on the plane ride overseas while teammates slept, Twitter had a field day.
Other NFL teams hopped into the fray. On Thursday night, with the Baltimore Ravens on their plane home after a primetime victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker joked that Lamar Jackson was leading the team in high knees and added a “Ravens flock, let’s fly” — a nod to Wilson’s “Broncos country, let’s ride” catchphrase.
But after Denver defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 21-17 London’s Wembley Stadium on Sunday, no one is joking about the Broncos. It wasn’t a perfect game, sure. But for at least a week, they can celebrate, halting the disaster that was their first seven weeks of the season.
And it was Wilson, their new franchise quarterback signed to a five-year extension with $165 million in guarantees, helping to lead the charge for the Broncos (3-5) against the Jaguars (2-6).
“I wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t handle the pressure, you know?” Wilson said in a postgame interview on the field. “I kind of enjoy it.”
Wilson led a seven-play, 80-yard touchdown drive with under four minutes left that pushed the Broncos ahead for the game’s final points. It was Wilson’s dart down the sideline to wide receiver K.J. Hamler on the first play of the possession — a 47-yard pickup against man coverage — that got Denver into scoring range. Several plays later, Wilson picked up a critical first down on a 10-yard scramble to get the Broncos in the red zone.
And after an impressive interception by cornerback K’Waun Williams gave Denver the ball back with 1:43 remaining, it was a successful Wilson sneak on fourth-and-1 from the Jaguars’ 26 with 36 seconds left that sealed the game with Jacksonville out of timeouts.
This was the Wilson NFL observers saw so often when he was with the Seattle Seahawks: delivering in the clutch. He completed 18 of 30 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown with one interception for the Broncos, who snapped a four-game losing streak.
It’s a victory that may compel the team to keep several key pieces through Tuesday’s trade deadline. Star outside linebacker Bradley Chubb has been among the players subject to trade rumors.
“[My teammates have been] lifting me up every day, picking me up,” said Wilson, who was sidelined for last week’s game against the New York Jets with a hamstring injury. “Their work ethic. How they come to work every day no matter what’s going on, no matter what’s been said. At the end of the day, I also know who I am.”
At the start, the Broncos’ offense was the dreadful unit that defined the first seven games of the games of the season. Denver had 10 net yards and no first downs on 12 plays on its first four possessions. Wilson’s first play from scrimmage was a near interception by Jaguars cornerback Darious Williams. On the second play of the second drive, Wilson was picked off by cornerback Tyson Campbell — a bad and short pass targeting a well-covered Courtland Sutton on the sideline.
But on the next three drives, the Broncos flashed the potential everyone saw in their offense entering the season, with Wilson under center and talented weapons on the outside. Each drive was at least nine plays. Two of those series ended in touchdowns, including one that started from their own 2-yard line. On that possession, tight end Greg Dulcich accounted for 78 of the 98 yards on three receptions.
The Broncos’ offense wasn’t great on the day. Wilson missed several throws. Denver converted on just two of 11 third downs. But it also tied a season-high with three touchdowns. We saw what the Broncos could do when Wilson is able to throw the ball quickly and has decent pass protection on slower developing plays, helping an elite defense. The Broncos had two takeaways, held Trevor Lawrence to 133 yards passing and held the Jaguars scoreless on six of their last seven possessions.
As usual, the defense did its part — but the offense did enough on this Sunday, too.
At least for now, Wilson gets the last laugh.
“At the end of the day, I ain’t gonna blink,” Wilson said.
“Yo, Broncos country! Let’s ride, baby.”
Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.
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