DENVER — As the fourth quarter started and the Broncos trailed the Texans 9-6, Courtland Sutton was kicking himself.
He didn't really deserve it — after Jerry Jeudy left the game with a shoulder injury, Sutton still came through with several big gains. But he'd also been whistled for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty and faulted himself for an interception early in the third quarter.
However, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Sutton put his few mistakes behind him and delivered as he had for much of the day. As the Broncos faced third-and-16, Russell Wilson looked Sutton's way, and Sutton rewarded his faith by getting wide open for a 35-yard reception. Three plays later, the Broncos found the end zone and got the score that pushed them ahead for good.
By the end of the day, Sutton recorded his second-highest receiving total of his career with 122 yards on seven receptions.
"Courtland was so big for us today," Wilson said. "He made some great plays for us. He was so critical to make key third downs. The fourth down [earlier in the game], the one-on-one on fourth down. So many great plays for us."
The Broncos' options at receiver dwindled when Jeudy exited the game midway through the first quarter. Joined by Tyrie Cleveland, Montrell Washington and Kendall Hinton, Sutton became the offense's unquestioned focal point in the passing game. Of Wilson's 26 passes that came after Jeudy's injury, 10 were to Sutton, and the fifth-year wideout provided half of Wilson's completions. No other player had more than two receptions in the game.
"We started targeting him quite a bit, and he made some huge plays," Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said. "I mean, that third-down play, third-and-long, was absolutely a thing of beauty. And then he made just some big plays across the board. That's what you need. You need your captain, like Courtland, to step up in those situations, and he and Russell did."
Even though the Texans could focus their defensive energies on Sutton in obvious passing situations, he embraced the challenge and the opportunity — both to deliver like he did in this game, and to prove the kind of player he can be.
"Third and fourth downs, whenever we get in those situations, you want to be the guy that Russ is looking for," Sutton said. "He gave me an opportunity to go make a play, and I want to continue to allow him to have that confidence in me to go make those plays for him. I want those opportunities to make those plays. I want to be the guy he goes to on the big third downs and fourth downs so we can convert them and stay on the field.
"I feel like in order to be in that space an elite wide receiver, you have to be that guy that can make those big third downs and fourth downs. I want to continue to be that guy for Russ. The rest of the guys in the room can also make those plays, as you all know. They're in there for a reason. But whenever the ball does come my way, it's upon me to go make those plays, especially on third and fourth down, for sure."
Third-year receiver Tyrie Cleveland's description of Sutton's mindset was simple: "He's a dog."
"He looks for those," Cleveland said. "He looks for those plays. He wants the ball in his hands. I feel like he's going to do a great job and continue his success."
No matter how long the Broncos are without Jeudy, it's clear the Broncos are still in good hands whenever Sutton is on the field.