For a moment, Seattle's left tackle had Bradley Chubb in his sights.
Then, Chubb delivered a stutter-step and dipped under Charles Cross' left shoulder. As the offensive lineman turned to grab Chubb — a last gasp effort to keep the Broncos pass rusher away from the quarterback — No. 55 threw his right arm down into the throwing arm of Geno Smith.
The free football fluttered into Cross' hands, but the damage was done. Seattle couldn't convert the ensuing third-and-16, and the Broncos' defense got the ball back for its offense.
"I thought he had some great moves there," Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said after the game. "I thought did a really good job chasing after the ball and just playing with his hair on fire. I think that's what we want to see from him a leader of this team."
For Chubb, the sack was more than just a potentially game-changing play.
It was a sign — to himself, first and foremost — that he was back.
"It was dope," Chubb says. "It was good to see. [It was] good to feel that feeling again."
After a 12-sack rookie season and Pro Bowl appearance in 2020, Chubb was held without a sack in 2021 as he battled a pair of ankle injuries that cost him all but seven games last year.
"Last year with the tribulations and stuff, it was hard to go through," Chubb says.
Chubb's sack of Smith, which came in the midst of a dominant second-half shutout for Denver's defense, was the former fifth-overall pick's first sack since Nov. 29, 2020.
"You always remember your first sack," Chubb says. "I wanted to get back to that feeling. It kind of felt like that, just being in that situation and stuff like that. It was dope."
Chubb's first sack came in his third career game, as he took down Joe Flacco on the road in Baltimore. That play has stuck in his mind — and he said the play in Seattle will, too.
"[It's] more like a statement for myself, [that] you can still do this, you can still be at the highest level and stuff like that," Chubb says. "It was a good one for sure."
Chubb, who has shown his game-changing ability but also lost more than two dozen games to injury in his career, isn't as concerned with proving a point to the outside world. His 5.5 sacks through the first five weeks are tied for fifth in the NFL and may be a reminder to Broncos fans of his potential, but Chubb says he's purely focused on maintaining that success. If he plays well enough, he says, the respect for his game will come.
"It was a good start," Chubb says in mid-September. "But [I've] just got to keep pushing forward. Keep doing things, putting it out there on tape. Making sure it's known. Soon, I won't have to say it. It will be a known thing."
And make no mistake: Chubb's expectations are high. He still believes he can match the production of some of the league's top pass rushers, and he has aspirations to return to the Pro Bowl and earn his first All-Pro honors.
"Team goals for sure ultimately come first," Chubb says. "I want to win as many games as we possibly can win. But on the way to winning those games, I want to be looked at as one of the best at my position and make sure I go out there and practice like it."
Ahead of training camp, General Manager George Paton saw the signs that Chubb could return to his previous heights.
"What I'll say about Bradley is, I've only been here a year and a half, but he's had an incredible offseason," Paton said in late July when asked about Chubb's future. "… It's the first offseason he hasn't had to rehab and hasn't had a surgery. We're seeing the Bradley that I thought we were going to get when I got here. He's playing with reckless abandon. He's looked as good as the year when he had 12 sacks as far as I'm concerned.
"… We're excited about Bradley Chubb. We want him here a long time, and we'll just kind of keep all of that other stuff [about contract negotiations] in-house."
And as Chubb enters the final year of his rookie contract, he's also hopeful that he can continue his resurgence in Denver.
"One-hundred percent," Chubb says. "This is where I started my career. These fans took me in. All the stuff that I went through, I went through here. It was one of those things. I want to go through all that here and have a breakthrough here, as well, and be in that position to set my family up for however long. I want them to grow up in Denver. … I love it out here, and hopefully it works out like that."
When the Broncos drafted Chubb in 2018, they envisioned the possibility of forming one of the league's top pass-rushing duos with Chubb and three-time first-team All-Pro Von Miller.
The duo never fully realized its potential after the two players combined for 26.5 sacks in 2018. Chubb missed most of the 2019 season, while Miller suffered a season-ending ankle injury ahead of the 2020 slate. In 2021, the duo played just one half together before Chubb headed to IR and Miller was traded at the deadline.
With Miller now in Buffalo, Chubb remains as the Broncos' top homegrown pass-rush talent. Yet while the Broncos will count on Chubb in 2022 to produce at a high level, he doesn't view himself as Miller's replacement.
"You saw 10, 11 years out here [in Denver]," Chubb said. "Eighteen sacks in Year 2. Twelve in Year 1. Just the stuff he did, I know I'm not Von Miller. He's not me.
"So I've got to go out there and pave my own path, do what I do. I can't look at it as, 'Oh, I've got to fill Von's shoes.' I've got to look at it as, they drafted me to be me. So I've got to go out there and be me every day and be the same guy. Be the playmaker, be whatever [I] need to be. As long as it's me and not trying to be someone else."
That doesn't mean, though, that Chubb doesn't believe in his ability to match Miller's production. Miller posted between 10 and 14.5 sacks in seven of his eight complete seasons in Denver — and Chubb showed his potential as a rookie to record that kind of total.
The only difference may be the manner in which they record the sacks.
"You see Von bending and [being] twitchy," Chubb says. "I might get mine with power and setting guys up and doing different stuff. It's not going to be a drop off when it comes to production, [but] we're just two totally different people."
As the Broncos move forward in 2022, Chubb hopes to have the same opportunities as Miller to make an impact in the game's biggest moments.
After limited team success in the first four years of his career, Chubb is hopeful he can be the spark for the defense in a must-win game — both late in the season and beyond.
"That's what the dream is," Chubb says. "[A situation where] we've got to get this sack. We've got to get this third-down stop or we're not going to the Super Bowl or we're not going to the playoffs or whatever it may be. [I want] for me to end up being that guy to go out there and make that play, to go out there and do whatever the team needs me to do and put us in positions to win games.
"Since I've been here, we haven't really won that many games. I want to change that and be the catalyst to help change that."
As he stacks games, he has expectations far beyond staring down a rookie left tackle in an early season matchup. Beyond the individual accolades, Chubb's most-pressing desire is to face a do-or-die scenario as a defense — and to then deliver for his teammates.
With Chubb coming off the edge, the Broncos have to like their chances.