To complete a 28-7 comeback against the Chicago Bears and win their first game of 2023, the Broncos needed nearly flawless play in the second half from their offense, defense and special teams units. Denver received just that, scoring 24 unanswered points, forcing two turnovers and a pivotal fourth-down stop and taking the lead on kicker Wil Lutz's 51-yard field goal. The comeback wasn't made in just one play, so we'll look at six of the most impactful plays that led the Broncos to their first win of the season.
QB Russell Wilson finds WR Jerry Jeudy on third down for a 25-yard reception
Situation: Third-and-five from the Chicago 49, 12:38 remaining in the fourth quarter, Chicago leading 28-14
Breakdown: Down 28-7, the Broncos' passing game came alive, and it was especially effective on third down. Quarterback Russell Wilson led Denver on a seven-play, 75-yard drive in the third quarter, then followed it up with a 10-play, 66-yard drive and his third touchdown pass of the day. The latter touchdown drive was enabled by three impressive third-down conversions, starting with a 25-yard pass from Wilson to wide receiver Jerry Jeudy. With the Bears missing much of their secondary due to injuries, Denver used its experience advantage over Chicago's young defensive backs to find its rhythm and will its way back into the game.
They Said It: "I thought our offensive line did a tremendous job. They didn't blink the whole day. [They did a] great job pass protecting and guys were clutch. [We] had some clutch third downs when the game mattered most when we were trying to come back." – Wilson
OLB Jonathon Cooper records 35-yard scoop-and-score touchdown
Situation: Defending first-and-10 from the Denver 48, 7:05 remaining in the fourth quarter, Chicago leading 28-21
Breakdown: Before the game, the Broncos' defensive players expressed their intentions to keep Bears quarterback Justin Fields in the pocket and force him to make plays with his arm. In the first half, Fields foiled Denver's intentions with regularity, using rollout designs to get free and completing his first 16 pass attempts. But with the Broncos needing a stop late, outside linebacker Nik Bonitto didn't fall for Fields' play-action fake and evasion tactics and launched into Fields as he was trying to release the ball. Outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper caught the fumble of his former Ohio State teammate off one bounce and cruised into the end zone, and a Lutz extra point moments later tied the score. Payton said the play was the turning point of the game, while NFL Next Gen Stats estimated the scoop-and-score increased the Broncos' probability of a win by 37.2 percent, the highest added probability of any play during the game.
They Said It: "That was a hell of a play. Like [Nik Bonitto] said, he just read it really well. When he got that sack, I didn't know if he had hit the ball or it was a [pass breakup] or something. I saw his arm go like, 'Go!' and I took off as fast as I could." – Cooper
Denver's defensive front stuffs the Bears' fourth-down rushing attempt
Situation: Defending fourth-and-1 from the Denver 18, 2:57 remaining in the fourth quarter, tied at 28
Breakdown: Instead of capping off their red-zone trip with a field goal, Chicago opted to attempt a fourth-and-1 conversion. Denver's defense — which showed its greatest improvement between the halves in plugging running lanes, according to Payton — wasn't fooled when the Bears tried an apparent read-option play with running back Khalil Herbert. Inside linebacker Alex Singleton shot through a gap and was credited with the tackle, but the whole Broncos' front-seven swarmed the line and ensured that Herbert would have no chance at a conversion. The fourth-down stop was also a huge probability swing in Denver's favor, with Next Gen Stats calculating a 25.4 percent increase in probability of a Denver victory on the play.
They Said It: "I thought for sure it was going to be a field goal. But once they [call timeout and go back on the field], they might hard count once, but they're running a play. … Their offense is probably going to be zone read, so [we] try to take advantage of it." – Singleton
WR Marvin Mims Jr. secures a 48-yard reception to start off the game-winning drive
Situation: First-and-10 from the Denver 19, 2:52 remaining in the fourth quarter, tied at 28
Breakdown: The Broncos' momentum continued with their next play, as Wilson looked downfield to rookie wide receiver Marvin Mims Jr. After pulling in a 60-yard touchdown reception against Washington and scoring on a 99-yard kick return touchdown against Miami, Mims was quiet for most of Sunday afternoon, but the Broncos schemed up a play to put Mims in space against the undermanned Bears secondary and Cover 2 coverage. With Jeudy and wide receiver Courtland Sutton receiving most of the Bears' defensive attention, Mims broke along the right sideline and found space downfield against one-on-one coverage. Wilson found Mims in stride with a masterful deep throw, before Mims spun his way out of a couple tackles to advance to midfield.
They Said It: "We put [Jerry] Jeudy inside to keep the safeties on their landmarks, and Russ made a real good throw to Marvin in the turkey hole, if you will. You kind of key off the lean of either safety. That was certainly a plus to get the drive going." – Payton
K Wil Lutz drills a go-ahead 51-yard field goal
Situation: Fourth-and-10 from the Chicago 33, 1:51 remaining in the fourth quarter, tied at 28
Breakdown: In Week 8 of the 2020 season, Lutz connected on a 38-yard field goal in overtime to lift Payton and the New Orleans Saints to a road victory against the Chicago Bears. Three years later, Payton's Broncos looked for a kicker who could make those game-winning kicks and decided to trade for Lutz. Though Lutz endured a rocky Week 1 performance, he was perfect on field goals and extra points in the following two games and was ready when Payton called his number for a go-ahead 51-yard field goal. Lutz's kick started to veer toward the right upright, then straightened out and found the back net to give the Broncos a 31-28 advantage with just under two minutes left.
They Said It: "It's kind of all a blur. Great snap, great hold by Mitch [Fraboni] and Riley [Dixon]. It felt good. That's why this staff brought me here, and I'm just happy to get another opportunity and help this team win." – Lutz
S Kareem Jackson's interception ends the game
Situation: Defending third-and-13 from the Chicago 47, 0:38 remaining in the fourth quarter, Denver leading 31-28
Breakdown: Denver's run defense wasn't the only improvement after halftime. Early in the second quarter, tight end Cole Kmet ran a seam into the secondary and eluded the attention and coverage of both the Broncos' linebackers and safeties. Fields arched his throw right above the grasp of Singleton and found Kmet in the end zone to give the Bears their first lead of the game. But Denver learned from its coverage breakdown, while Fields tried to force it to Kmet to convert a crucial third down in the Bears' two-minute drill. When Fields fired Kmet's way on third down, safety Kareem Jackson stepped in Kmet's path and secured his second interception of the season, then wisely slid to the turf to seal the victory.
They Said It: "A lot of these games come down to two-minute offense or two-minute defense. You have to get a stop in those situations. Obviously, [it was] a great call. [I was] just trying to play within my technique and within the call and make a play and close out the game." – Jackson