DENVER — In the season's opening games, the Broncos' offense took several drives to find its footing.
Against the Giants, the Broncos did not take the lead until early in the second quarter, and they needed until the end of the first half to grab the advantage against the Jaguars.
At home in Denver, the Broncos struck much more quickly.
After their opening drive led to a punt after one first down, Denver rebounded on its second possession. Keyed by a 28-yard completion to KJ Hamler on third-and-9 from midfield, Teddy Bridgewater and the Broncos marched the ball 75 yards in 11 plays to take a 7-0 lead with 3:27 to play in the quarter. After a quick Jets three-and-out, the Broncos tacked on a field goal on their next possession to take a 10-0 lead.
"It was much better than the first two games," Head Coach Vic Fangio said. "It took us a while to put the points on the board — it was good to get a score early. Then we tacked on a field goal obviously making it 10-0, and it's always good. I mean, it doesn't change the total complexion of the game, but it gives you a different feel as a coach when you're calling it."
While the Broncos rode their passing game to four scores in the first two games, they turned to the running game in the red zone against the Jets. Javonte Williams powered the ball in from one yard out for the team's first touchdown, and Melvin Gordon III added a one-yard score of his own before halftime. The two backs combined for 90 yards despite a defensive game plan again designed to limit the running game.
"It was a great performance by those guys," Bridgewater said. "They worked hard all week, we came up with a great plan for those guys, and they executed it. You know, the runners, those guys work extremely hard as well. It's great to see all of that hard work come together. You go out there and rush for over 120 yards and you come away with a victory. Yeah, hats off to those guys who are working extremely hard and trusting the process."
Fangio noted that the Broncos would have to find a way to run the ball against loaded boxes, but Denver seems more than capable to throw its way to wins. Bridgewater again completed more than 75 percent of his passes as he threw for 235 yards and a 104.6 quarterback rating.
"Man, if that's what it means, we'll take it," Bridgewater said of throwing the ball. "We get those guys, as you saw today, we just give those guys a chance and they make plays. Teams want to sell out and stop the run, then we're going to ask our receivers, our tight ends, even running backs to do a great job of helping the pass game get going. So, you know, we understand that each week teams are going to play us differently, and we try and come up with the plan to help us go out there and play at our best. As long as guys approach each day with that student mindset, eager to learn more and we demand more of each other, we can just keep this thing going."
Tackle Garett Bolles certainly believes in Bridgewater's ability.
"Quit doubting Teddy, man," Bolles said. "I love Teddy dearly. Let me tell y'all something. I was in Minnesota and we went to dinner when we went out there, and I saw how his mind is and I got to talk to him. And how he went through his reads, you know, he's a dog, man. The man can come in here and win the team over and continue to do the things that he's going to do. I love protecting his blind side. ... Watching him do his thing, the dude is composed back there. He knows exactly where to throw the ball. I'm telling you right now, man, he's a dangerous threat. If we do whatever we can to keep his jersey fresh, we're hard to beat."
For all of the early success the Broncos enjoyed, the offense bogged down a bit in the second half. Bridgewater was sacked on third-and-10 at the edge of the red zone early in the third quarter, and Denver was forced to settle for a field goal. On the team's other third-quarter possession, Denver went three-and-out.
The Broncos were held to another field goal in the fourth quarter when Javonte Williams couldn't punch the ball in from a yard out on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, and Williams lost a fumble on another opportunity from the 1-yard line on the team's next possession.
Denver scored touchdowns on just two of its five red-zone opportunities and two of its four goal-to-go scenarios.
"Yeah, that's concerning, and it's frustrating," Fangio said. "It pisses you off when it happens, but we've been much better in the red zone this year overall. Obviously today we had to settle for the field goal the one time and then we fumbled one time, but I feel a lot better about our red-zone offense."
The Broncos' offense took another hit Sunday as it lost KJ Hamler, Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow for the game, though the extent of their injuries was not immediately known. Despite the blow, Denver's offensive players noted that with a continued commitment to the running game and Bridgewater's continued high level of play, the offense should find more success.
"We have to be able to do it if we want to win," Gordon said. "The great teams that make it far are able to run the ball and pass the ball — you have to be balanced. There's room to get better. We're not down about where we are now but we aren't happy. We have a lot of work to do but we definitely know that we have to be a balanced team to go where we want to go."