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'All that matters is that win': After sluggish start, Broncos' offense responds in key fourth-quarter moment

DENVER — The game had not gone in their favor.

Through three quarters, the Broncos' offense had posted just six points — and the unit had been shut out in the third quarter.

Russell Wilson, in his first home game, was 9-of-23 for 116 yards through three frames. Denver's offense, which moved the ball early, struggled to sustain drives following a first-quarter injury to Jerry Jeudy.

And in the red zone, the Broncos were unable to score touchdowns on two goal-to-go attempts.

"I would be booing myself; I was getting very frustrated," Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said of the red-zone inefficiency. "We get down to the red zone two times. Don't get another touchdown, which is unbelievably frustrating. I don't think we have scored in there yet. That's something that all of our guys have to step it up. Whether we run the ball more, whatever we're doing, we just have to execute at a higher level."

But as Wilson looked at his teammates to start the fourth quarter, there was no panic. It would have been understandable if there was some concern percolating around the huddle; The Broncos faced a critical third-and-16 as the final frame began. Wilson, though, told his teammates that their potential in 2022 would be determined by what came next.

"Going into the fourth quarter, Russell [knelt] down in the huddle and told us, 'Hey, look, we want to become a championship team, the team that goes deep into the playoffs and win championships,'" Courtland Sutton recounted after the game. "'These are the situations that we have to be able to master. We have to master these fourth quarters and be able to go out there and have that success.'

"I feel like guys have bought in and locked into a situation. We didn't have the success we wanted to have in three quarters, but we were able to figure it out and get the win, and that's the most important thing. We have to go in and watch the film, figure out what we can do better and come back next week."

In Sunday's game, they responded quickly.

On the next play, Wilson found Sutton down the left seam for a 35-yard gain — and three plays later, the Broncos were in the end zone.

"Yeah, that was a great one," Hackett said of the pass to Sutton. "That was our next call up on what we wanted to do. Russ wanted to go over there to Courtland. I thought Courtland made a great catch. ... Hit a go [route] on him earlier that game, so he's playing off a little bit, but it was a heck of a play."

Denver's defense came through with two consecutive stops to end the game, and the Broncos earned a win.

And while the Broncos have plenty to correct from the win in their home opener, perhaps that's the key lesson: With Wilson under center, neither side of the ball will not lose faith.

"We have a lot of faith in No. 3," Dre'Mont Jones said. "… I wasn't really worried about him going out there and not doing his thing. Being a fan and seeing Russ over the years do his thing has been inspiring. To see him live with adversity, knowing that things are not rolling, he always kept his composure. It's a great [testament] to how he prepares every day. He's consistent. He's the same Russell Wilson every day."

Wilson and Co. rewarded that belief, as they scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to secure the win.

"It's the National Football League, there's going to be adversity," Wilson said. "There's going to be tough times. There's going to be tough games. Guys are going to get injured like Jerry Jeudy, who has been spectacular for us so far. Guys have got to step up and step in. … The one thing I'm never going to do, I'm never going to blink. That's just not me.

"… I'm excited because we were able to win a tough game like today, and you need those kind of games, because down the road when it's a playoff game or it's late in the season and you need that game, you have something to go back to. I think that was really critical for us to be able to lean on that and to really stick together through that fourth quarter."

There's still plenty to correct as the Broncos move forward. Denver's offense was just 3-of-12 on third down, and the unit was whistled for eight penalties.

"We're going to have to look at all those," Hackett said of the penalties. "We are going to have to put them up in front of all the guys. We're going to have to make sure they understand why there were penalties, what they're doing wrong. Whether it's a false start, whether it's illegal cut block, any of those things that go along. We just have to be sure that we clarify it to them because this has got to stop. We're not going to win a lot of games when we get that many penalties."

Wilson knows better than most about the importance of the final score. Through his first 10 seasons, no quarterback in NFL history had more wins than Wilson — and he knows there's value in fighting for a victory.

"I've been in so many tough games throughout my career," Wilson said. "All that matters is that win. Then, taking those wins and understanding, 'OK, here's the areas where we can get better.' We'll definitely take on that challenge we're looking forward."

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