INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Holding a 10-0 lead in the third quarter against the Chargers, the Broncos looked to challenge the Los Angeles secondary with a pass to wide receiver Jerry Jeudy. The Chargers' coverage took Jeudy away as an option, but stellar pass blocking from the Broncos' offensive line enabled quarterback Russell Wilson to continue to look downfield and turn a broken play into a golden second chance. That's when the magic started.
Wide receiver Courtland Sutton ran his route downfield to his planned spot, but when Wilson started to scramble, Sutton thought to cut back toward his quarterback. Then, Sutton changed course and took off toward the end zone, where he corralled Wilson's deep pass with a single arm.
After the game, Sutton explained his thought process during the play and the source of his improvisation: Wilson's voice in his head.
"Russ and I have gotten into a really good spot of being able to find each other on scrambles," Sutton said, "I was in the spot I was supposed to be in, but once he gets out of the pocket, another play starts. … I almost came back. I almost ran back towards him, but literally I heard him in my head say 'top down' and I was just like, 'All right, I'm just going to go deep.' As soon as I went deep, we locked eyes from a distance, and he just gave me a chance."
Wilson also emphasized the importance of non-verbal communication to the play — a strength in the connection between the two Pro Bowlers — and praised Sutton's ability to evaluate plays on the fly.
"Courtland, obviously, has been special all year," Wilson said. "He has a tremendous work ethic, great leader, great teammate, has great hands, can catch everything. He did a good job because he was going deep, kind of came back for a second and then he went deep again, which was a really great play by him. [The] one-handed [catch] in front of our fans was pretty special."
Sutton positioned himself in front of Chargers cornerback Michael Davis as Wilson's pass started its descent, and Davis was forced to reach over the 6-foot-4 receiver and commit defensive pass interference to make a play on the ball. As he dove to the ground, Sutton snagged the ball with his right arm and secured possession.
"For me, honestly, it's just however I can catch it, I've got to catch it," Sutton said. "In that situation, I felt him where I was, and once he got into the spot where he had to panic a little bit. I was like, 'I've got to put a hand on it.' If I can put a hand on it, then who knows what can happen after that. And I was able to come down with it."
Sutton's 10th touchdown catch was his longest reception of the season and helped the Broncos take firm control of their divisional matchup against the Chargers, but his highlight-reel catches have been nothing new. Among the highlights: his first one-handed touchdown of 2023 against the Chiefs in Week 6, a 23-yard fingertip snag in the second Kansas City matchup, an incredible toe-drag touchdown against the Bills in Week 10 on "Monday Night Football," the go-ahead score against Minnesota in prime time in Week 11 and a diving 45-yard touchdown catch versus the Texans in Week 13.
Jeudy said Sutton's spectacular catch hardly came as a surprise to him after the time they've spent together at practice and on game days.
"That ain't nothing new," Jeudy said. "That what he [does], day in and day out. You see the best in practice. I'm not surprised [by] him making that catch, because I always see him do that."
The Wilson-to-Sutton connection helped Denver take a commanding 17-0 lead with 5:55 remaining in the third quarter, and the Broncos never let up en route to a 24-7 road victory over their division rivals. The play also earned its share of style points; according to NFL Next Gen Stats, Wilson's pass to Sutton had just a 21.9 percent completion probability and traveled 60.8 yards in the air, the most of any touchdown pass in the NFL in 2023.
Head Coach Sean Payton said the offensive line's pass protection was key to the play's success, but he also called Sutton the football equivalent of a power forward and was impressed by Sutton's ability to make the play with a defender draped all over him.
"Man, it was something," Payton said. "He's like that big power forward. ... If you notice one thing on that play though, I think Russ had seven, eight seconds — we had great protection. Obviously, that was the second part of a broken play. There's a lot of confidence that Russ has in Courtland, and it's earned. … He gets the penalty and he still makes the play. It's impressive."
Sutton finished the afternoon with a team-high 62 receiving yards on three catches and exceeded 50 yards for the fifth consecutive contest.
Though he said he would have to wait until reviewing the play further before deciding where his 46-yard touchdown ranks among his greatest hits this season, Sutton intends to keep his signature spectacular catches coming in the final weeks of the regular season.
"I haven't seen [the play] all the way yet, but it happened so fast," Sutton said. "…. I think after I see it, I might be able to kind of put it in a spot, but I know there's more to be made, for sure."