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Denver defense finds its stride as Jackson, Surtain come up with Broncos' first interceptions of 2021

Sunday's game at TIAA Bank Field got off to just the kind of start the Broncos wanted to avoid.

After talking for much of the week about how to best make a rookie quarterback uncomfortable, the Broncos' defenders looked like the ones sweating bullets as Trevor Lawrence, the top overall pick in April's draft, picked up yards in bunches moments after kickoff.

Lawrence stretched the field, finding playmakers outside the numbers on intermediate and deep throws, capping the drive with a 25-yard ball to the right corner of the end zone. Maybe most concerning was that Jacksonville found a way to stay on the field by converting each of their three third-down tries.

It was, needless to say, not what Head Coach Vic Fangio or Broncos fans wanted. However, patience soon provided the kind of play each desired. Following that possession, Denver's defense locked down. Even without several starters due to injuries, the unit was nothing short of stingy.

"Yeah, I wasn't very impressed the first drive, obviously," Fangio said after a 23-13 win. "They threw at us outside and made plays that we couldn't defend. But we got it going after that."

By getting it going, Denver's defense turned a promising start for Lawrence into a nightmare of a day.

After the first quarter, Lawrence completed just 8-of-25 passes for 47 yards. Jacksonville simply couldn't move the sticks, converting just one of eight third-down attempts in the final three quarters. The Jaguars didn't reach the end zone on offense — or even the red zone — beyond that first possession.

"The main key was focusing our eyes, make sure our eyes were good," cornerback Pat Surtain said. "Flying around to the ball. Getting pressure. Making plays on the ball. That was our key thing going on going into the second half."

But worst of all for him — and best of all for the Broncos — was how Denver's defense came up with turnovers. Safety Kareem Jackson and Surtain each intercepted Lawrence once, which the offense was able to turn into points each time.

Jackson secured the first pick midway through the first quarter on a fake jet sweep. Lawrence dropped back to survey the field before throwing to tight end Luke Falk about 20 yards downfield near the left sideline. But Jackson, covering a tremendous amount of ground, closed quickly as he read the throw, leaping in front of Falk for the interception.

"It was a great play," Fangio said. "They tried a special play there. They tried a gadget-type play where they're hiding the tight end through the line, and he breaks out late up the field. He saw it, made the play. I'd like to tell you it was a great call by me, but it wasn't. He just made a great, great play."

Surtain's was equally as impressive, as he stayed step for step with receiver Tyron Johnson. Surtain ensured he had position on the ball and then secured it as he went to ground right along the sideline. While at first it seemed like coming down with the pass would carry him out of bounds, replay showed that Surtain somehow managed to get both feet in bounds.

"That was a hell of pick, wasn't it?" Fangio said. "I mean not many deep corners can make that play, you know. At best most of them get a breakup. But he got the breakup and the pick. So that speaks volumes about his ability."

Without veteran Ronald Darby, who was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week, Denver counted on the ninth-overall pick to make the start in Darby's stead. Given his inexperience at the NFL level, Surtain said he knew what he was in for.

"Going out there, my first start, I was expecting that going into the game," Surtain said. "They were going to try me early. I just had to make up for it."

With his interception, he did just that. And Fangio returned the favor after the game, giving Surtain a game ball. Jackson, who recorded his 20th career interception, also received a game ball.

"It means a great thing, just going out there, doing what I need to do for the team, making plays out there," Surtain said. "It was a tremendous feeling."

To keep those good feelings going, the Broncos will look to extend their win streak to three games in their home opener. Behind efficient offensive play and often dominant defense, Denver will welcome the Jets to town — and there may be no louder stadium in the NFL as Broncos Country welcomes back its undefeated team.

"It's going to be great arriving there 2-0," outside linebacker Von Miller said. "I know the fans can appreciate that. We're just going to keep trying to ride the wave. … We've got a great squad, we've got great fans. It'll be good to get back in Mile High and play in front of those guys. I know it's going to be rocking and I'm looking forward to it."

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