DENVER — In his first game as a Bronco, first-round pick Jerry Jeudy had the chance to win the game in his hands.
With just over four minutes to play, Denver took over on Tennessee's 44-yard line with a one-point lead. The Broncos had the chance to run out the clock completely with a solid four-minute drill, but even one first down would've put Denver in field-goal range and allowed them to milk another couple of minutes off the clock.
Jeudy, who had four catches for 56 yards to that point, broke free from his defender and cut toward the middle of the field as Drew Lock delivered a strike. The rookie got both hands on the pass, but he couldn't haul it in for a completion.
Less than a minute later, the Broncos punted the ball away after gaining just 2 yards on the drive. Tennessee responded by traveling 83 yards in 12 plays for a game-winning 25-yard field goal.
"He dropped the ball," Head Coach Vic Fangio said after the 16-14 loss. "He's not the first guy that's done that, won't be the last. We expect him to catch that. He expects himself to catch it. It would have put us in field-goal range and given us a first down. But those are the mistakes that can cost you when you're playing a good team."
Jeudy dropped another pass earlier in the game on a third down that would've extended Denver's drive.
Jeudy's teammates, though, aren't worried about the talented rookie. Second-year tight end Noah Fant, who struggled at times during his rookie season, said he recognizes the Alabama product's ability.
"I think Jerry's a very talented player for us," Fant said. "Obviously, in the game, we need plays. Nobody wants drops, but coming from me, I understand it. I've been a rookie, been in that spot before. For me, it's not really alarming. I think Jerry has all the ability in the world and he's a very good player for us, so it's just one of those things that he has to focus in on and lock in on. He has all the ability to catch those balls, and I'm sure he's going to do that."
Jeudy showed promise at times during the game, including during a 21-yard catch and run that set up the team's final touchdown of the game. Running his route from left to right, Jeudy stopped in an instant and broke back left to gain extra yards. Six plays after that target, the Broncos scored to go ahead 14-13.
Jeudy, who finished with four catches for 56 yards, posted the third most productive game by a rookie Broncos wide receiver in their first game action. Only Eddie Royal (nine catches, 146 yards, one touchdown) and Demaryius Thomas (eight catches, 97 yards, 1 touchdown) posted better stat lines in their first games.
Melvin Gordon III — who lost a fumble inside the Broncos' 25-yard line — said after the game that he pulled the rookie aside after the drop to make sure he kept things in perspective.
"When he dropped it out there, I said, 'Bro, you got to forget that,'" Gordon said. "I made a mistake too, and you got to understand that football isn't a perfect game and mistakes are going to be made and they're going to happen. It's just part of the game. It is what it is, but the players that really excel is the guys that can get over it the quickest and kind of make up for it. That's what we were trying to coach to him and let him know. It was his first game, but I can promise you he's pretty hard on himself about the drops, knowing what caliber [of] player he is. He'll be better for sure."
Perhaps the most important player to Jeudy's future success, quarterback Drew Lock, won't lose faith in the rookie after a pair of drops.
"He wanted to do well so bad, that he kind of forced some things on himself," Lock said. "It's kind of what I did in my first start. I forced a couple balls into some windows because I wanted to win so bad. I wanted to win so bad, and I know that's what he wanted. He was jived up and ready to go. It comes down to he learned his lesson. There's a certain way you can come in and stay relaxed play by play. I thought he did a fantastic job tonight. He has a promising future here, I would say."
Courtland Sutton was close to playing Monday after suffering a shoulder injury on Thursday, but he wasn't quite ready to play, Fangio said after the game.
"He was close to playing but it came down to a decision that wasn't hard," Fangio said. "To decide whether a guy can play or not, he has to get final medical clearance and we never really got that. I believe that Courtland felt the same way."
Lock said he thought the Broncos' offense responded well in Sutton's absence, but any team would clearly miss a player of the 2019 Pro Bowler's caliber.
"You try not to think about it while you're out there," Lock said of Sutton not playing. "In any offense in the NFL, if they had the opportunity to have Courtland on their team, they would miss him if he wasn't on the field. Not only us, but everybody misses Courtland. We were ready to play, and we had a great scheme. We just have to find a way to finish."
TAKING AWAY A TURNOVER
Early in the second half with the score tied 7-7, rookie cornerback Michael Ojemudia read Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill's eyes and broke on the ball for a momentum-changing interception.
The play didn't count, though, as Alexander Johnson was whistled for an unnecessary roughness penalty. Fangio said after the game that he hadn't seen the penalty.
Johnson admitted after the close loss that while he felt he was playing within the rules of the game, he realized he cost his team a turnover.
"About my penalty at the end, the biggest thing [is] it sucks because we had an interception on that play," Johnson said, "Obviously, I was just playing ball, playing within the whistle — playing football — playing within the whistle, but referee saw something else, and it sucks that we had an interception and had to return. I feel like that hurt the team right there."
The Titans missed a field goal later in the drive, so the Broncos didn't give up any points after the penalty.