As the Broncos break for their bye week, it's time to take stock of the first 10 weeks of the season.
Despite a disappointing loss to the Eagles, Denver remains 5-5 and within a game of the AFC West lead. During the Broncos' final seven-game stretch that includes five division contests, Denver will need its best players to play their best football.
With any luck, that would provide the Broncos with their fair share of highlights to end the season.
But what stands out as the team's top highlight through 10 games? And who would win offensive and defensive player of the year honors through Week 10?
Read on for DenverBroncos.com's midseason awards.
Editor's note: The following selections are the solely the opinion of the author and do not represent the organization.
Week 9: Broncos 30, Cowboys 16
This isn't really up for debate. The Broncos flew down to Dallas for a matchup with the 6-1 Cowboys, and they turned in more than just their best performance of the 2021 season. It may well have been the Broncos' best win since Super Bowl 50, considering Dallas' record and the help it gave the Broncos' playoff chances.
Against the Cowboys' third-ranked scoring offense, the Denver defense was nearly flawless. They pitched a shutout for the first 55 minutes of the game, held MVP candidate Dak Prescott in check and recorded two early fourth-down stops to set the tone. The Broncos' offense, meanwhile, posted its highest scoring output of the season.
Toss in that this was the Broncos' first game without future Ring of Famer Von Miller, and the win meant that much more.
It was unexpected and delightful — and it showed the Broncos' potential when they play at their best.
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAY
Tim Patrick's 44-yard touchdown vs. Dallas
There are a few worthy nominees — Javonte Williams carrying Marlon Humphrey on his back vs. the Ravens and Courtland Sutton's diving touchdown catch in Pittsburgh come to mind — but Tim Patrick gets the nod here. In the aforementioned win over Dallas, Patrick ran a double move against cornerback Trevon Diggs and then held him off in the end zone as Teddy Bridgewater dropped in a perfect pass near the front pylon. It remains Bridgewater's longest touchdown pass of the season, and it gave Denver a two-score lead. Patrick has been a quiet deep-ball threat for the Broncos, and he showed off his sure hands on this play.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAY
Denver's game-winning sequence vs. Washington
Perhaps it's cheating to select more than one play, but the Broncos' entire final sequence against the Washington Football Team deserves recognition. Holding onto a 17-10 lead, a series of players made key plays that preserved the Denver win. Without even one of these moments, it's possible Washington would have sent the Week 8 game to overtime.
With Washington facing third-and-6 from the Denver 7-yard line, outside linebacker Malik Reed made his biggest play of the young season with a strip sack of Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke. Washington recovered, but the team lost 13yards on the play. On the ensuing fourth down, Heinicke looked to the right corner of the end zone, but safety Justin Simmons sprinted over to pick off the pass.
The defense, though, wasn't done. After a peculiar offensive series that ended with a Melvin Gordon III fumble, Washington got another chance from the Denver 24-yard line. Cornerback Pat Surtain II recorded a pass breakup on first down, Reed added another sack on second down and the Broncos had solid coverage on the final two plays. Heinicke's last-gasp fourth-down pass was thrown out of the back of the end zone, and the Broncos held on for the win.
TE Albert Okwuegbunam
Jerry Jeudy likely would've been on pace to win this award had he not missed six games — and it's possible he'll have shown enough by the end of 2021 to deserve the honor. For now, though, tight end Albert Okwuegbunam gets the nod. The second-year player has already exceeded his 2020 totals in receptions and receiving yards, though it's worth noting he played just four games as a rookie before suffering a season-ending injury. Okwuegbunam, though, was also a healthy scratch during the early weeks of his rookie season. This year, he's been a key part of the Broncos' offense. He scored a touchdown in Week 1 against the Giants, and he set a career high in receiving yards against the Eagles. His coaches have also pointed out his improvement as a run blocker. Despite missing three games with an injury this season, he's found his way back to form. It seems likely that we'll continue to see him produce as the 2021 season continues.
WR Kendall Hinton
A year ago, Kendall Hinton was the Broncos' best story for less glamorous reasons. After the Broncos' quarterbacks were all ruled out for the team's game against the Saints, the practice squad wide receiver — who was on the verge of seeing his NFL career end — became Denver's last-minute fill-in at the position. He completed just one pass, but he endeared himself to the Broncos' fan base for his unselfishness. This offseason, Hinton's chances to make the team seemed slim. He worked briefly at defensive back before switching back to receiver, and he ultimately was waived as the team cut its roster before the regular season, though he re-signed to the practice squad.
Hinton received another chance, though, following injuries to Jeudy and KJ Hamler — and he took advantage. He scored his first career touchdown against the Steelers, caught five passes vs. Las Vegas and helped ice the game with a 40-yard reception vs. Dallas.
"He can actually call himself an NFL wide receiver, and not somebody that was an ex-quarterback or ex-something trying to play receiver," Head Coach Vic Fangio said in October. "He is a receiver."
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
RB Javonte Williams
Surtain has lived up to every expectation as the Broncos' first-round pick, and he already ranks fifth among Denver rookies in pass breakups since 1999. Williams, though, has been a human highlight reel. He was sent a literal scepter by "Good Morning Football" after his Angry Run vs. the Ravens, during which he broke a slew of tackles and carried a defender on his back for 20 yards.
Williams then earned Rookie of the Week honors in Week 9 after he posted his first career 100-yard game. In that win over the Cowboys, Williams posted three runs of at least 17 yards, including a 30-yarder in which he and Quinn Meinerz pushed a pile of Cowboys defenders for a big gain.
Through 10 weeks, Williams ranks third among rookies in rushing yards. He is just 132 yards shy of Najee Harris' rookie-leading total despite having 73 fewer carries than Harris. Williams' 4.99 yards per carry is first among rookie running backs with at least 35 carries.
Williams runs hard, and he's capable of breaking free at any moment.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR
WR Courtland Sutton
The Broncos' Pro Bowl wide receiver has had quite the return to the field following his season-ending ACL injury in 2020. He reset his career marks in just his second game back from injury, recording nine catches and 159 yards in a win over the Jaguars in Week 2. He nearly sparked a double-digit comeback over the Steelers with a seven-catch, 120-yard, one-touchdown performance, and he added eight more catches for 94 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders.
Through 10 games, Sutton's 617 receiving yards rank 10th in the AFC, and he is on pace for his second 1,000-yard receiving season.
Sutton set the tone this offseason in the training room for all of the team's injured players, and he's returned to find success in 2021.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
WR Tim Patrick
Fangio put it best earlier this season after the Broncos' 26-0 win over the New York Jets.
"Tim's a damn-good NFL receiver," Fangio said.
Patrick caught five passes for 98 yards in that game, and he's been a consistent threat for the Broncos all season. He again leads the team in touchdown receptions, and he has 10 scores since the start of the 2020 season.
The former undrafted player continues to build his resume, and he's made some of the biggest plays for the Broncos in the early part of the season. The Broncos' offense has been balanced through the first 10 weeks, and it was a toss up between Patrick, Sutton and Gordon for this honor. Patrick's touchdown totals and lack of costly mistakes give him the edge.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
S Justin Simmons
Through the first seven weeks of the season, the Broncos' Pro Bowl safety had just one interception. That pick came late against the Jets, in a game that the Broncos already controlled. As the Broncos aimed to break free of a four-game losing streak, Simmons was honest about the need for him to play better.
Has he ever.
Over the last three games, Simmons has pushed his interception total to four on the season, and they've all been meaningful. He picked off an end-of-half Hail Mary attempt against Washington and then snagged another one in the end zone as the Football Team tried for a last-minute comeback. Against the Eagles, Simmons intercepted a Jalen Hurts throw and gave his team possession near midfield. Trailing by seven, it could have been a game-altering play if not for the ensuing offensive fumble and theEagles' defensive score.
Simmons ranks second on the team in tackles, is tied for first in passes defensed and recorded a crucial fourth-down stop against Dallas. His 2020 season was impressive, and he's currently on pace to better those numbers.
QB Teddy Bridgewater
The Broncos' quarterback faced considerable backlash for — and owned up to — his role in the Eagles' defensive score that essentially sealed Denver's Week 10 loss, but it's hard to argue that any player has been more valuable.
Bridgewater ranks third in completion percentage among qualifying quarterbacks, sits just outside the top 10 in yards per attempt, is tied for 14th in touchdown passes (14) and has just five interceptions. He is currently on pace to complete 69.2 percent of his passes for 4,061 passing yards, nearly 24 touchdowns and less than nine interceptions for the season. Compare that to a year ago, when Denver's quarterbacks combined to complete 57 percent of their passes for 3,673 yards, 21 touchdowns and 23 interceptions.
The veteran player has largely avoided game-changing turnovers — three of his interceptions came in a loss to the Raiders — but he's also made his share of big plays. Bridgwater, a team captain, has also been one of the Broncos' key leaders.
Denver surely hopes its record would be better than 5-5 heading into the bye, but it remains the team's best record at this point in the season in several years — and Bridgewater is perhaps the biggest reason the Broncos remain in the playoff chase.