Although Denver struggled to find a rhythm offensively on Sunday against Carolina, two Broncos hit major milestones in their careers.
Rookie wide receiver Brandon Johnson made his regular-season debut in Week 11, but he did not have the easiest journey to get there. An undrafted free agent out of the University of Central Florida, Johnson turned heads during the preseason and seemed to have a chance to make the initial 53-man roster. Unfortunately, he suffered a high ankle sprain in the Broncos' final preseason game and was placed on injured reserve ahead of the season.
After recovering from his injury, Johnson rejoined the Broncos on the practice squad and got a chance to play in Weeks 11 and 12 with wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler out. On Sunday, the rookie made the most of his opportunity. Late in the fourth quarter, he scored the Broncos' lone touchdown of the game as quarterback Russell Wilson found him on a crossing route — and it was also the first touchdown of Johnson's career.
"It was a good play call," Johnson said after the game. "We ran a couple crosses across the field, got the defenders a little confused. A lot of them hit each other, and I just came up on the other side and I was able to reel it in. Russ found me, so it was a good play."
Because of the adversity he overcame to reach this point, Johnson said that finding the end zone in the second game of his career was incredibly special.
"It's a blessing," Johnson said. "I give all the thanks to God. I mean, a couple weeks ago, I was at home. So, I give all the glory to God, man. Without him, I wouldn't even be here right now. I'm just grateful."
The play also happened to be the 300th touchdown pass of Wilson's career. The nine-time Pro Bowler expressed excitement for Johnson, but Wilson noted that he prioritizes winning over his own accolades.
"I'm more happy for Brandon," Wilson said. "To score his first touchdown, what a blessing. Obviously, he worked. He's been working so hard. He's done an amazing job. High character guy. Guy's given everything, every day. In terms of, obviously the John Elway thing, I'd rather win than anything else. At the end of the day, the only thing I care about, the only record I really care about is winning. We got to find how to do that."
Below the Fold
The NFL is full of young talent, and many players who are still new to the league have become some of the top performers. Narrowing down all the rising stars in the league is no easy task, but ESPN's Matt Bowen, Matt Miller and Jordan Reid put together a list of the top 25 players under 25.
On a list with many of the top young players in the game, they ranked cornerback Pat Surtain II No. 8 overall.
"Surtain has an excellent physical profile and great speed, and he is already one of the top cover corners in the game," Bowen wrote. "While his on-the-ball production has declined this season, Surtain grabbed four interceptions as a rookie and has 21 pass breakups in his young career. He's a rapidly ascending talent with true lock-down potential."