ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For the second consecutive season, quarterback Jarrett Stidham will finish his year starting a Week 18 game on the grass of Allegiant Stadium.
But after starting for the Raiders in last season's finale, he'll face them on Sunday in a Broncos uniform with plenty on the line. A victory in Las Vegas would give Denver its first winning season since 2016 and Stidham his first road win as an NFL starter.
After Wednesday's practice, Stidham said he's excited for the matchup and noted that he spent plenty of time battling against the Raiders in practice last season.
"Obviously, [I'm] excited," Stidham said. "I spent a year there and made a lot of relationships with a lot of people. But I'm here now, so I'm looking forward to playing against those guys. I did it in practice, obviously, all last year. I'm just excited to get back in there on the opposing sideline and try and score some points and hopefully win."
Head Coach Sean Payton said part of this week's preparation has included working with Stidham on silent snap-counts, though Stidham's experience at Allegiant Stadium provides some familiarity.
"Obviously, he's familiar with this stadium we're going to," Payton said. "You go through the crowd noise. I would say today's the first day where we're in shotgun with him on a silent snap count. There are little nuances that obviously are more cadence-driven, and we'll work through that."
In his two starts with the Raiders, Stidham completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 584 yards and four touchdowns against the 49ers and Chiefs. Payton said the All-22 tape of Stidham's performance against San Francisco "opened a lot of people's eyes," and months after his Las Vegas finale, Stidham signed with the Raiders' AFC West rival.
Even with the impact that his starts as a Raider made on the arc of his career, Stidham said he doesn't view the upcoming Week 18 game as an audition for a future starting role.
"I'm not looking at it as an audition or anything like that," Stidham said. "I have a certain job to do, certain thing to do on each and every play, and ultimately, we've got to go out and win. That's what I'm focused on doing — my job [is] to help those other 10 guys on offense move the ball and score points. That's how I'm looking at it."
BURTON'S BLOCKING AND EFFORT ON HUMPHREY'S TOUCHDOWN HIGHLIGHTED AS 'SPECIAL PLAY'
Fullbacks don't often find themselves in the spotlight, but on Wednesday, Payton ensured that fullback Michael Burton received his due for his inspired blocking on wide receiver Lil'Jordan Humphrey's 54-yard touchdown reception against the Chargers.
Payton showed the play to the team and lauded Burton's effort and movement. Later, as he met the media, Payton compared the play to Benjamin Watson's effort in a 2005 divisional round matchup between the Broncos and Patriots. After a Champ Bailey interception, Watson raced from the other side of the end zone down the field to knock Bailey out at the 1-yard line.
"I hadn't seen it, and I just showed it to our team this morning," Payton said. "… This play kind of goes in that little category [with the Watson play] for me that is pretty special. When you think you're playing hard, take a peek at this. I was not aware of it. I was only aware of the pickup. [Humphrey] has to bounce off about five people for the fullback to get ahead of him, but I'd never seen something like that. It was a special play."
Stidham also didn't realize the magnitude of Burton's effort until watching the game tape of the play, and he underscored how impressive it was for Burton — who lined up in the backfield — to finish the play ahead of Humphrey and make a key block by the goal line on the 54-yard score.
"The tape was the first time I saw that," Stidham said. "Incredible play by [Burton]. … From the snap, he was back there in the backfield with me. He stepped up, blocked [Chargers defender Eric] Kendricks, and then once the ball was thrown, ran all the way down the field, all the way to the goal line making blocks."
The veteran quarterback also added that Burton's effort on the highlight-reel play has been consistent with his work ethic in practice.
"He was pretty incredible," Stidham said. "That's just kind of how [Burton] is. That's what he does in practice. Even if he doesn't catch a pass, he acts like he catches the pass and then runs literally 80 yards down the field just about every play. So it doesn't surprise me he did that."