Points of Light: A Week One Denver Broncos Retrospective

Denver Broncos, Nathaniel Hackett (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Denver Broncos, Nathaniel Hackett (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /

For those in Broncos Country who may still need a little time to sit in the pain of this season-opening loss, I’ll begin by putting this out there – if it’s 4th and 5, with 38 seconds remaining in the game, a full complement of time outs, and I’m faced with the decision between trusting my mobile, future Hall of Fame Quarterback to pick up five yards, and trusting my Hall of Great Kicker to connect from 64 yards?

No shade toward the Broncos’ howitzer-legged kicker Brandon McManus, but I’m putting it in the hands of Russell Wilson. There, I said it. With that brief moment of revisionism out of the way, I want to take this opportunity to turn the page (as heavy as it may feel to us all, right now) to the positive takeaways from Monday night, and I’d love some company if you’re willing to tag along.

As a guy whose professional life to this point has been largely centered on team building and leadership development, I’ll be examining these positive developments from two distinct angles – individual contributors, and team culture.

Let’s start by taking a look at ‘the who’ – not the Roger Daltrey/Pete Townshend-led 1960s rock band ‘The Who’, but ‘the who’, as in who showed signs of great promise during Monday night’s contest.

Russell Wilson did his part in his Denver Broncos debut

Okay, I recognize this is probably one of the more obvious bright spots, but judging from the fallout I witnessed on social media, a reminder is warranted here. Was he perfect? No, there were a couple of moments he would no doubt like to have back, but considering the weight of the situation, he was relatively undaunted. That’s not a normal trait, but the offseason with Russ should have given Broncos Country more than a little insight into the man’s uniqueness on several fronts. Is he corny? Eye of the beholder, but in my eyes, he’s genuine, and that matters more to me than delivery.

Is he a competitor? Not even up for debate. The man was just asked to lead an insanely talented but very young roster, under the guidance of an upstart, offensive-minded, Pete Carroll energy-clone, into gridiron battle against what has essentially been his family for the last decade – and he didn’t even blink. From an emotional standpoint, it’s not going to get any tougher than that, and he didn’t blink. Sign me up.

Jerry Jeudy gave us the breakout we’ve all been waiting for

That touchdown? That was exactly what the doctor ordered. The catch itself is what you’d expect of any wide receiver in the NFL, but those afterburners and footwork after the catch were a glimpse of that elite receiver we’ve seen so little of since his days in crimson. Broncos Country Faithful have had an idea about what Jerry might be for quite some time, but now the rest of the football world has been officially introduced, and that will pay dividends for Courtland.

No more faked jet sweeps. Again, was it a perfect outing? No, there’s at least one he’d like to have back, but if you’d have told us before the game that Jeudy would have 102 yards and a touchdown, I think we’d have taken that.

Courtland Sutton also reestablished himself in the season opener

Although we all would have loved to see him come down with one in the end-zone, Court was exactly as advertised. If Russ had been able to loft that deep ball toward the boundary, my money’s on Sutton to come down with that contested catch over Seahawks CB Tariq Woolen, and who knows where that might have led. Even so, Courtland demonstrated a clear continuation of the training camp trend of chemistry and connection with Russ, and I would expect that to continue to pay dividends throughout the season.

Javonte Williams was outstanding besides the, you know, fumble

Acknowledging the inexcusable folly of the dreaded goal-line fumble (and also promoting the conspiracy that there may or may not have been an anti-Bronco repulsor magnet planted somewhere near the goal line), Williams still had an extraordinarily promising game.

As excited as we all have been to see Javonte rumbling through defenses, league-wide, there was something even more promising to witnessing development in his vision, and watching him haul in 11 catches for 65 yards. He’s already a fan favorite, but there’s going to be a run on Javonte jerseys by the time the season’s up, mark my words.

Patrick Surtain II was outstanding vs. DK Metcalf

Apart from the optics of being on the receiving end of a brutal stiff-arm and a Moss-like, leaping soul-snatch over the middle, Surtain more than held his own against one of the most physically gifted players in the league. Considering Metcalf’s average YPG (81.4 in 2020 and 56.9 in 2021 per Statmuse.com), most any defensive back (and fan base for that matter) would be pleased to have held him to 36 non-scoring yards for the low, low price of a slightly disfigured personal pride.

Bradley Chubb showed up big in the 4th quarter

After a slow and seemingly tentative defensive start for the unit, on the whole, Chubb flipped a switch and began to take over. There were several players who flashed brilliantly, but Chubb’s rush rapidly transitioned from tentative to fearsome, and his teammates began to follow the lead of this Team Captain.

If Chubb and The Darkside (sounds like a great name for a grunge band) are able to dial it up even one quarter earlier in the weeks to come, remaining opponents will be irritatingly beleaguered at least, and violently brutalized at most.

Andrew Beck gets his first targets since 2019

Who knew? I mean honestly… Who knew that the newly-formed Law Firm of Hackett and Wilson would be calling secret witness and Hybrid-TE/FB Andrew Beck to the stand? I’ve long loved Beck’s attitude, athleticism, and versatility, but unless you’re one of a select few Broncos insiders, I’m guessing it’s safe to say you, too, had no idea of their plan to highlight Beck so prolifically, and so early on in the script.

We’ve filled the proverbial empty glass of abject despair to the quarter-full mark, but wait, there’s more! As a guy who’s obsessed with the nuts and bolts of what it takes to build and motivate a team, I scraped together what I believe to be a few additional flakes of gold, from the game, as well as from the post-game interviews. Here are a few points of positivity worth considering:

Broncos defense made major adjustments at halftime

Just before halftime, I joined the rest of Broncos Country in positing that success could be pulled from the ashes of the first half ‘if’ the coaching staff were able to make appropriate adjustments to the problems they’d faced in the first half – and the coaches did exactly that.

Again, was it perfect? No, but Broncos Country should be encouraged by the fact that adjustments were made, communicated, and executed; this is the most anyone could ask of even the most experienced and innovative defensive minds across the league.

This team clearly believes in itself and each other

Although our perspectives are fueled by slightly different inputs, you’d better believe that some element of the perspective I shared (and have seen shared in some manner across social media prior to crafting this article) at the outset has occurred in both mind and locker room within the team.

To assign blame is human nature, and I would expect nothing more or less than that from any individual on the team in the privacy of his thoughts. From a team leader, however, I would expect more – a great deal more. From a team leader, I would expect the blame game to begin within his or her mind, transition into a closed-door conversation within the leadership group, and remain behind those closed doors as soon as these leaders head out to face the rest of the world.

If the team is healthy, its public message should be unified, edifying, and focused on improving personal performance in order to maximize service to the team. In separate interviews with Wilson, Chubb, Jeudy, and Simmons, I watched in admiration as each of them intentionally side-step the opportunity to place blame on another (whether coach or player), instead expressing what appeared to be genuine faith in their teammates and coaches in spite of what might have transpired within their minds or meetings. That’s a good sign, and Broncos Country should draw encouragement from this.

A deposit of trust was made

Mistakes were made, to be sure, but Coach Hackett and Russ each backed up their messages with their actions. Each has made much of their combined and individual efforts to build a family atmosphere based on trust and mutual respect. While the payout may not have been what we’d all hoped, Hackett definitely put a substantial deposit into Brandon McManus’ trust account.

Both Hackett and Wilson stated that McManus needed the left hash of the 46-yard line in order to feel comfortable with the kick, and Hackett appeared to have doubled down on his belief in McManus’ long-range targeting system. I assure you, McManus will not soon forget that demonstration of trust, and will likely grow as a result of the missed opportunity to reinforce Coach Hackett’s belief.

When Melvin and Javonte fumbled in the most critical of positions, neither spent significant time in the doghouse; Hackett pressed them right back into service, and Russ immediately put the ball in their hands. These early deposits of trust show a great deal of maturity, and will pay dividends down the road when it matters most.

Plenty of blame can be shared

And what of those indefensible blunders? Are we just going to pretend those didn’t happen? Blown coverages, an unholy number of penalties, two crucial fumbles, a subpar return game, a dropped touchdown, and a dropped pass in an otherwise wide-open field – are we going to forget those? Yes, we are – but I assure you, those players and coaches will not. If we’re to take any consolation from those egregious errors occurring in front of a primetime, national audience, it’s this – these men are professionals, living out their professions on the highest stage available to them.

It’s safe to say that most of them did not reach this point in their professional lives by happenstance. There have certainly been exceptions in the history of the league, but there’s no amount of shame or outrage we can heap upon these men that will exceed what they’ll heap upon themselves as they look into the mirror of the All-22. And this, the expectation of improvement, should be exciting to every member of Broncos Country.

Humility is the way forward

For as much promise as this fledgling team continues to show, even with as many reasons for hope as we’ve seen to this point, I will confess to a moderate level of shock at Coach Hackett’s willingness to call himself out for his mistakes – in a very public and transparent way. The order of the day in the coaching world is to double down.

Admission of wrong is somehow viewed as equating to weak and indecisive, when in fact, as long as he uses this moment as a growth opportunity, his honest self-assessment is likely to leave a much different impression on his players. Albeit in an equal and opposite direction, this type of behavior is every bit as contagious as finger-pointing and deflection of responsibility. This is as positive a sign for this team’s future as any I’ve mentioned to this point. Good on you, Coach. Good on you.

So there they are Broncos Country. Two angles of positivity, with several points of light to form a bona fide constellation of eager anticipation for what lies ahead. As many words as I’ve offered, above, few in history have said anything better about a topic than when renowned author C.S. Lewis had something to say about a topic, and while I’m sure he probably wasn’t speaking on football when he said it, I’ll leave you with this:

"“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” – C.S. Lewis"

And in a unified voice, all of Broncos Country collectively said? Amen!