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'That was big for everybody': Broncos' starting offense caps preseason debut vs. Cardinals with touchdown drive

GLENDALE, Ariz. — There was no secret as to why the Broncos' starters headed out for a fourth possession in Friday's preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals.

Denver wanted to score.

After three empty trips to start the game — two of which ended with missed field goals — Head Coach Sean Payton and Denver's offense wanted one more chance to get on the board.

"Shoot, I wanted to score and leave with a good taste in our mouths," Payton said.

The Broncos did just that, as Denver capped a six-play, 57-yard scoring drive with a 21-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Jerry Jeudy on fourth-and-4.

"I thought it was really good how we responded," Wilson said. "After the first drive, we really responded — the ball started moving. Third drive, and then the fourth drive obviously we finished it off. I thought it was a really great route by Jerry. Good job by him just getting open there on a split second. … He just did a great job of winning and getting a touchdown for him, and that was big."

The touchdown only came after Payton decided to attempt the fourth-and-4 play, which followed a third-down opportunity where Jeudy would have had a first down — and potentially a touchdown — but failed to secure the ball.

"It was easy to [go for it], just based on where we were on the field and really being more aggressive and showing them confidence," Payton said.

Wilson and Jeudy made the most of the added snap — the first-team offense's 20th and final of the evening — as Jeudy quickly gained separation and caught the ball in stride for a touchdown.

The play capped a four-drive evening and let the offense end the evening on a positive note. Wilson absorbed several hits on the evening but battled to throw the touchdown strike on the first-team offense's final play. He finished his evening 7-of-13 for 93 yards, one touchdown and a 102.4 quarterback rating.

"Look, he was sharp," Payton said. "He's had a good week of practice, and we'll keep working."

Wilson and Co.'s final drive helped wash away a tough opening possession and a pair missed scoring opportunities on ensuing drives.

Denver's first drive generated three yards, as Wilson couldn't find Adam Trautman on the offense's opening play and then had a third-down pass batted down. A 19-yard completion to Jeudy kick-started the following possession — which began at the Arizona 41-yard line following an Essang Bassey interception — but Wilson was sacked on second down and the Broncos could not convert a third-and-17 attempt. On fourth down, Brett Maher's 47-yard attempt sailed wide.

Denver's third drive featured a pair of double-digit yardage gains, as Wilson hit Courtland Sutton for 13 yards and Trautman for 14 yards. Again, though, the Broncos were unable to keep their drive going, as Wilson took big hits on back-to-back plays. Wilson was forced to get rid of the ball on third-and-7, and Elliott Fry's 50-yard field-goal attempt also floated wide right.

Even just ahead of the touchdown pass, it appeared the Broncos would be held out of the end zone. Jeudy created plenty separation on the third-down play, but he lost control of the ball as he turned upfield.

"I [saw] the end zone so I lost focus on the ball," Jeudy said. "That's just a concentration thing — make sure I catch the ball first and then run. I just saw a lot of open space so I was trying to make a move already. Shoutout to the coaches and Russ to come back to me the very next play. In this game … you've got to always think about the next play."

Wilson said he told Jeudy he would come right back to him if it was open, and Jeudy made the most of the next opportunity.

"We all know what Jerry can do," Sutton said. "Nobody doubts Jerry's abilities. To see him go and make that play and do what he does and get in the end zone, it's encouraging. "

The touchdown pass — a score that gave the Broncos a sign of tangible progress — was worth the wait.

"We probably didn't start how we wanted to, collectively as a group," Jeudy said. "We just kept pushing and kept on trying to execute our plays. We finished with a touchdown that last drive, so that was big for everybody."

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