DENVER — For the first time this preseason, Teddy Bridgewater faced a bit of adversity on Saturday night against the Rams.
Just days after being named the Broncos' starting quarterback, Bridgewater and the starting offense weren't quite clicking early in the game.
Denver pieced together a field-goal drive on its first possession of the game, but the offense gained all 26 of its yards on the ground as Bridgewater started 0-for-4. On the ensuing series, Bridgewater and the Broncos went three-and-out after a failed third-and-2 attempt.
That's when Bridgewater responded the way a starting quarterback should.
On his third and final drive, Bridgewater guided the offense on a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that chewed five minutes and 24 seconds off the clock. During that final possession, Bridgewater completed all five of his passes for 58 yards and a touchdown.
The early struggles, Bridgewater said after Denver's 17-12 win over the Rams, may simply have been a product of trying to force the ball to wide receiver Courtland Sutton and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who made their returns from ACL injuries.
"We were just off a little bit tonight," Bridgewater said. "It's one of those deals, as a quarterback I was like, 'Man, I know I've got "Court" out here for the first time, "Big O" — let me kind of really get these guys going.' If I really just play within our system, throw the ball to the guy that's open, you have success as a quarterback in this offense. It's one of those deals where I learn, 'Hey, man. If we call "Court's" number and they cover it, hey, just get to the next guy on the read.' Or if it's a certain coverage that prevents us from throwing the ball to "Big O," get to the next guy. It's one of those deals where you want to see these guys have that success, get them going fast, but at the same time, you've got to stay within the system."
The success came for both players. On the touchdown drive, Bridgewater found Okwuegbunam for an 8-yard gain to open the series and a 3-yard pickup later in the possession. Sutton made an even bigger impact. On a third-and-7 from the Los Angeles 39-yard line, Sutton ran an out-breaking route along the right sideline for a 19-yard gain. Three plays later, Bridgwater eluded pressure and worked his way to the left side of the field as he kept his eyes on Sutton in the end zone. As Sutton broke open in the left corner of the end zone, Bridgewater delivered his third touchdown pass of the preseason.
"We put together the nice drive there with Teddy," Head Coach Vic Fangio said after the game. "I believe that was his third drive. That was good to see. Good for him to have that and not end the preseason on a sour taste."
Bridgewater ends his preseason with plenty of personal and team success. He completed 22-of-30 passes for 241 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Bridgewater also had a passer rating of at least 100 in all three games, including two games with a rating higher than 136.0.
On Bridgewater's seven drives leading the offense in game action, Denver averaged 4.86 points per possession, as the Broncos notched four touchdowns, two field goals and just one empty drive. A year ago, against admittedly tougher competition than Denver's preseason opponents, the Broncos averaged just 1.72 points per possession, according to Football Outsiders. Green Bay led the league by a wide margin in that category, as the Packers averaged 3.22 points per drive.
Yet while the long-awaited offensive success is quite welcome, neither Bridgewater nor Fangio was disappointed by the opportunity for the offense to respond to a tough situation.
"It's definitely good to be able to work through that adversity," Bridgewater said. "Because as we know, throughout the course of a season, throughout the course of games, things happen. When things go bad, what am I going to do? Pout on the sideline? Have my head down? No. We have a great locker room, a group of guys that will come up to you, [and say], 'Hey, man, you got this. Let's keep it going.' And that's contagious. That right there — that mindset, that attitude — is what breeds champions and winners."
Fangio's view of the situation was colored by his knowledge that tougher opponents and matchups are on the horizon.
"We didn't like it at the time, but it's good to overcome adversity," Fangio said. "You're not going to win a lot of games in this league 30-3 or whatever our other score was. I'll take 'em any time we can get them, but we know what the NFL is like and how many games come down to the end. I think it was good for them to experience some adversity too."
Through his response to the Broncos' offensive situation, it's possible Bridgewater convinced another subset of Denver's fans that he was the right choice in the team's quarterback derby. His play will have to do the talking, because Bridgewater doesn't seem like he's going to plead to be beloved.
"Honestly, for me, some things are out of your control," Bridgewater said of fans being split about the quarterback decision. "The one thing that I can control is how hard I work every day, what type of leader I want to be for this team, what type of football player I want to be for this team. I just want to make sure that I'm sacrificing everything that I have that's in me to lead this team and be the best quarterback that I can be for this team. Everything else will fall into place. I'm not in it to be liked. I'm not the salesman. I love football. I love playing for the Denver Broncos, coming to work every day, being the best version of Teddy that I can be or helping this team elevate [its play]."
If Bridgewater and the Broncos continue to respond to adversity the way they did in their win over the Rams, there will be plenty of people in Bridgewater's corner soon enough.