ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — A day after earning his first win as the Broncos' head coach, Sean Payton advocated for his players to keep their focus on improving rather than reveling in Denver's 21-point comeback win over the Bears.
"I [told the team], 'I'm encouraged that we fought back into that game, but man, let's not finish today when we're done watching this tape and feel like we're content at all with how we played,'" Payton said on Monday. "[There are] too many things that still are disappointing or things that we have to clean up. Same thing offensively.
"We stalled for a period after the first touchdown. We went through a third of the game struggling. 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."
The Broncos' standout performers from Sunday afternoon are also adopting that mentality.
Rookie running back Jaleel McLaughlin earned a game ball in his fourth NFL game after exceeding 100 yards from scrimmage and scoring on an 18-yard catch-and-run, but he said that improvement is possible after any performance, especially one so early in the season.
"No matter win or [lose], there's always something to clean up," McLaughlin said. "… It was great that we ended up pulling that win and that we don't have no quit in us, but there's a lot of things we have to clean up. Just like last week, you wipe it away on Tuesday when you come back into work. Today was our day, we watched film … and tomorrow and the rest of the week, we focus on the Jets."
On offense, Payton sees pre-snap penalties as a much-needed area for improvement. The Broncos committed seven penalties for 39 yards against Chicago, and five of those were false starts on the offensive line.
"I think the noticeable progress that still needs to be made is the false starts," Payton said. "You can't be third-and-1 and then end up third-and-6. You just can't do that. I'm sure there are a number of things that are contributing to it. We have to streamline the cadence so that we're all on the same page and get that cleaned up."
The Broncos' defense struggled in the first half and allowed three consecutive touchdown drives, but the unit held its ground in the second half and found the scoreboard on outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper's 35-yard fumble-recovery touchdown. Defensive end Zach Allen said the second-half improvement showed flashes of the defense's potential, but he said consistency in execution will be critical in the weeks to come.
"We have the talent and we have the players, it's just a matter of us executing better," Allen said. "We saw flashes of that in the second half. When we do it right, we play at an elite level and we just need to continue working it."
ALLEN COMPARES BONITTO TO FORMER TEAMMATE HAASON REDDICK
Outside linebacker Nik Bonitto enjoyed a breakout performance against the Bears, forcing Fields into a game-changing fumble and collecting 2.5 sacks, a career-high by a 1.5-sack margin. Allen said Bonitto's athleticism has made him one of the league's ascendant pass rushers.
"Nik's definitely a big-time player for us," Allen said. "He's really an elite rusher — he has all the athletic ability in the world."
Allen, one of the Broncos' big-name free-agent acquisitions in the offseason, had to think back to his time with the Arizona Cardinals to find an apt comparison for Bonitto's talent. His answer: current Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick, who tallied at least 11 sacks each season from 2020-22 and ranked fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season.
"I haven't at least played with someone like that since Haason Reddick," Allen said. "I think they're very similar players. [Bonitto is] still growing, still learning and I'm excited to see where he'll be."