In the NFL, you never apologize for a win.
The Denver Broncos certainly shouldn't start now. After coming from behind in the fourth quarter to defeat the San Francisco 49ers, 11-10, the Broncos now sit at 2-1 and lead the AFC West thanks to the tiebreaker currently owned over Kansas City.
While Sunday night's performance on prime-time television was imperfect, we learned a lot about the Broncos and the mettle of this team. Here's what I took away from Sunday night's action.
Russell Wilson Still Possesses the Clutch Gene
Wilson didn't play all that well against San Francisco, but like many great quarterbacks do in such situations, he saved his best performance for when it mattered most. Trailing 10-5 not long into the fourth quarter, Wilson led the Broncos on a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive that culminated in a Melvin Gordon goal-line touchdown plunge.
While Wilson had two very off-target passes in critical situations much earlier in the game, in fairness to the veteran, he was hardly given time to set up in the pocket by the Broncos' offensive line. Denver's starting five was consistently relinquishing early pressure on Wilson.
And on the odd chance when the Broncos' O-line didn't operate like a sieve in pass protection, Wilson would either deliver a strike, or hold onto the ball too long, and bring pressure on himself. He's still feeling his way in this offense and with his new supporting cast.
It was great to see Wilson's instinctual play-making ability surface on Sunday night, particularly in the form of his willingness to break the pocket, and create with his legs. He finished with 17 rushing yards on six attempts, two of which were on third down where he really strived to pick up the hard yardage.
Wilson came just short on one of those scrambles, extending the ball toward the first-down marker as he was getting tackled to the ground. Head coach Nathaniel Hackett challenged the spot of the ball and lost it. It was a wise challenge, even though it cost Denver a timeout.
On another third down, though, Wilson succeeded, breaking through the middle of the Niners' defense and taking on contact in order to keep the chains moving for the sputtering Broncos' offense. That play picked up 12 yards on a 3rd-&-6 on that fourth-quarter touchdown drive. If Wilson doesn't find a way, make a way, the Broncos don't go on to score on the drive, and we could be talking about a loss instead.
Wilson has delivered for the Broncos' offense in two straight games when the chips were down, providing that one badly needed touchdown drive to secure the win. Take encouragement in that.
Wilson finished the night 20-of-33 for 184 yards with a passer rating of 75.8.
Josey Jewell Completes Broncos' Defense
Let Jewell's importance to the Broncos' defense never be questioned again. After missing the first two games of the season with a calf injury, Jewell started on Sunday night, and boy, did he ever give that defense a boost of confidence and play-making ability.
The fifth-year linebacker finished with a team-high nine tackles (five solo) on the night, to go along with a sack and a fumble recovery. Jewell's run fits were excellent, and his tackling was reliable — and he was always around the ball.
Even without Justin Simmons, Jewell's return to the middle of the Broncos' defense proved to be the missing key to unlocking the unit's potential in its fullness.
This Broncos defense is for real. Denver limited San Francisco to just 267 total net yards and 10 points, while sacking Jimmy Garoppolo four times, forcing a safety, and taking the ball away three other times. The emergence of this defense buys Wilson and Hackett time to continue ironing out the kinks offensively.
Hackett's Game Management Shows Competency
Give Coach Hackett credit: he promised improvement as a game manager, and he delivered on Sunday night. The hiring this week of assistant Jerry Rosburg surely had something to do with that.
But there were no big, game-changing coaching gaffes on Hackett's part. And, blessedly so, there were no delay-of-game penalties by the offense.
While Hackett lost both of his challenges, each one was justified. There were still some imperfections that Hackett needs to clean up, but he took a massive step forward as a head coach in the realm of competency.
Now, if Hackett could put his head together with Wilson to get this offense out of failure-to-launch mode. Baby steps.
It might be too early to say this Broncos squad is a 'good' team, but for two straight weeks, they've done what 'good' teams do: despite inconsistencies, Denver has found a way to win.
That is the mark of a good team. Even though things didn't go well for three quarters, when it mattered most, this team came together to do what it took to win the game.
It's a sign that the spiritual mettle of this team is strong and sound. It also is evidence of Wilson's leadership from under center bearing fruit.
The Broncos are re-learning how to win after forgetting the equation for the past six years. These 'ugly' victories are (believe it or not) quite confidence-inspiring for the team.
It shows them the model for clutch-time play, and proves that the Broncos are good enough to defeat a quality opponent even when so many things didn't go right. Hackett and company are putting figurative football money in the bank with these confidence boosters and can draw on those deposits later on in the season when faced with similarly tough situations against next-level opponents.
It might not feel like it, but the Broncos are absolutely trending in the right direction.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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