ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos' 3-0 start is nothing to scoff at.
Through the opening weeks of the season, Denver has taken care of its business, winning a pair of games on the road and shutting out a rookie quarterback at home.
As Teddy Bridgewater noted Sunday, it's hard to win in the NFL — and the Broncos should be applauded for navigating the first part of their season without a loss. Denver's opponents likely won't be competing for playoff bids — the Giants, Jaguars and Jets are a combined 0-9 through three weeks — but the Broncos can't take any win for granted.
Over the last two years, the Broncos are 10-8 against non-playoff teams, which hasn't been good enough to put Denver in playoff position.
"In the years past, we've struggled against teams like that," nose tackle Mike Purcell said Monday. "Those close games that we've lost in the past few years, that's what's come to haunt us. They may be 0-9 but we got the wins that we needed to win. If you want to put it that way, games that we needed to win, we won, and now we're looking forward to another challenge."
Perhaps most encouraging is that Denver hasn't just won each of its first three games — there's been little doubt about the result. The Broncos haven't trailed by more than four points, have won each game by double-digits and are tied with Buffalo for the league's best scoring differential. Denver has yet to face a second-half deficit.
The challenge will pick up in Week 4. After facing two rookie quarterbacks in the first three weeks, the Broncos will welcome 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson to Empower Field at Mile High. Jackson has posted an uneven start to the season, throwing three touchdowns and three interceptions, but he led the Ravens to comeback wins over the Chiefs and Lions in the last two weeks. The degree of difficulty in defending Jackson as both a passer and a runner will be immense.
"It's hard," Head Coach Vic Fangio said of containing Jackson. "That's why the guy has won an MVP. That's why the Ravens have won a lot of games since he's become their starting quarterback. He's hard to contain. He's a special talent. It's almost like [Pro Football Hall of Fame RB] Barry Sanders is playing quarterback. We'll try our best."
Fangio said Michael Vick is the best comparison for Jackson, but he noted that Jackson is "shiftier" than the former Pro Bowl quarterback. When the Ravens arrive — with Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews and enticing wideout Hollywood Brown as Jackson's weapons — the Broncos will be tested both mentally and physically.
"You have to be real sound," Purcell said. "To me, it's almost like playing a triple-option team like I played in college. You just have to be sound in your defense. [I'm] not saying that they're running triple option or anything like that — [but] if you play sound defense you should be good."
Fangio said wide receiver Kendall Hinton would be the Broncos' best option to portray Jackson's skill set in practice, but recent injuries to Denver's receiving corps may force the Broncos to look in a different direction.
"He'd be a possibility, but I'm not sure anybody can simulate him anyway," Fangio said.
The Broncos will do their best to prepare for the NFL's fifth-ranked offense — and they'll also aim to continue to pick up wins, no matter the opponent.
"We didn't pick our schedule, so we're just going out there and [getting] 'dubs,'" Tim Patrick said. "We've got the Ravens this week, and we've got to go out and get another 'dub.'"
'DIFFERENT TYPE OF UNDRAFTED GUY'
The Broncos' receiving corps has taken a hit over the last three weeks, as the team lost Jerry Jeudy for an extended period of time and now will be without KJ Hamler for the rest of the season.
In their absence, the Broncos should rest easier knowing they can count on Patrick.
The fourth-year player had another productive game against the Jets, as he caught a season-best five passes for 98 yards. The performance was Patrick's highest output since a 119-yard game against the Dolphins last year, and it's the fourth time he's gone over 90 yards in his career.
"I think Tim is a really good receiver — I always have," Fangio said Sunday. "He caught the 50-50 balls and caught the balls inside the hash and inside the numbers — wrangled them. Tim's a damn good NFL receiver."
Despite his production, Patrick he is "probably not" going to stop surprising people around the league.
"[I was] undrafted," Patrick said. "I'm never going to get viewed as that guy, just because I wasn't drafted so they think my ceiling isn't high — but I'm a different type of undrafted guy, so my ceiling is pretty high."
With Patrick and Courtland Sutton, the Broncos have a pair of tall, physical receivers who should be able to take advantage of matchups on the outside.
"It's difficult because even if we're covered, we're not covered," Patrick said. "You could play the perfect defense and we'll go out there and make an amazing catch, and the coach can't tell you, 'Oh, you've got to do this better.' You were in the perfect coverage, but we wanted the ball more and we got it, so it's deflating for defense when you make plays like that."
And while Patrick posted good numbers on Sunday, he believes there's plenty of room to improve.
"Honestly, I watched the tape last night, and I didn't think I played that well," Patrick said. "I just made big catches that you guys like, so it seemed like I played well, but I had a lot of little things I messed up on. My route-running wasn't as good as it was in the past the first two games, but I made bigger plays this week so it kind of washes all of that away."
Fullback/tight end Andrew Beck was active for the first time this season against the Jets, and he played an instrumental role on each of the Broncos' touchdowns. Beck cleared the way for both Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III, clearing out a defender to make a path for the running back.
The Broncos weren't great in the running game — Williams and Gordon averaged a combined 3.0 yards per carry — but they converted a few critical opportunities.
Denver will face another difficult test in the run game on Sunday, as the Ravens have allowed just 79.0 rushing yards per game, which ranks ninth in the league. Fangio, though, knows the Broncos still must find a way to pick up yards.
"The Ravens historically are very tough to run on," Fangio said. "They have big defensive linemen, and they have good players. Their scheme is hard to run on at times, but we're going to have to find a way to grind some yards out of there."
It remains to be seen whether Beck will again be part of that plan.