Russell Wilson gives glimpse of what is to come, or what could have been

DENVER, COLORADO - DECEMBER 11: Russell Wilson #3 of the Denver Broncos avoids the rush against the Kansas City Chiefs at Empower Field At Mile High on December 11, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
DENVER, COLORADO - DECEMBER 11: Russell Wilson #3 of the Denver Broncos avoids the rush against the Kansas City Chiefs at Empower Field At Mile High on December 11, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images) /

For the majority of the 2022 season, the Denver Broncos have been a “spiraling out of control” variety of bad. This team has failed to live up to expectations, perhaps in a worse way than any other team in NFL history. The acquisition of quarterback Russell Wilson was supposed to elevate the talented Broncos offensive core the same way Peyton Manning did back in 2012.

Wilson was supposed to get the Broncos out of the AFC West cellar and into the spotlight, and it’s safe to say that a vast majority of people thought that would happen. Well, we all know that it absolutely hasn’t. Through 13 games, the Broncos are currently projected to send the Seattle Seahawks the 2nd overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. They are in last place in the AFC West with no divisional wins and only two more opportunities remaining.

Yet after the team’s latest loss to Kansas City (in Denver), it feels like the league’s worst offense turned a corner. As a matter of fact, it feels like the team itself turned the proverbial corner. Why? How?

Russell Wilson.

Is Russell Wilson’s performance against Kansas City a reason for hope?

There are reasons to believe that Russell Wilson has, individually, turned the corner as well. You could feel it tangibly watching the game live, and you can see it in more detail now looking back on the game film. I think a lot of times, people are expecting a nearly flawless performance from the quarterback in order to consider it a truly good game, but keep in mind that the Broncos trailed 14-7 late into the second quarter of Peyton Manning’s seven-touchdown performance against the Baltimore Ravens. A “good game” by a quarterback does not necessitate four quarters of absolutely dominant ball.

Russell Wilson deserves plenty of criticism for the way the Broncos offense has operated much of the season. He has clearly not meshed very well with Nathaniel Hackett, for whatever reasons, and rumors have circulated that Russ has even “lost” some people in the organization due to his personality and quirks both on and off the field.

In spite of all the off-field drama, the football world wondering what Mike Purcell really screamed at Russ a couple of weeks ago, and even in spite of a 27-0 deficit at home against the Kansas City Chiefs, we ended up seeing the best version of Wilson and the Broncos’ offense that we’ve seen all year in Week 14 against the team’s most bitter division rival.

And it happened without Courtland Sutton, Javonte Williams, Tim Patrick, KJ Hamler, most of the starting offensive line, and any number of other backups you can think of. Heck, the Broncos down their top three backs to open the season at one point in this game.

But the turnaround of the offense isn’t just impactful because of missing personnel — the turnaround of the offense is impactful due to the one who orchestrated it. It wouldn’t have been possible, per se, without Josey Jewell’s interception when the team was down 27-0, but it certainly wouldn’t have been possible without Russell Wilson flipping a switch and starting to “cook”.

Touchdown no. 1 to Jerry Jeudy, a brilliant piece of execution in the red zone with a perfect ball by Wilson and outstanding work by the former first-round pick.

Touchdown no. 2 from Wilson to Jeudy, another great execution in the red zone from the Broncos late in the first half with outstanding blocking up front, giving Wilson to go through his progression and find the third read — Jeudy again — to get the Broncos on the board a second time before the half.

Touchdown no. 3 for Wilson is another brilliant piece of execution by the offense in an area the team has struggled for so much of the season. The Broncos have just been flat-out bad executing the screen game this season, but Wilson sells to the defense that he’s going to his left, and times the dump-off to Marlon Mack perfectly.

Touchdown no. 4 on the day was set up by a brilliant — brilliant — sequence of plays from Russell Wilson that I think emphasize the fact that he has truly turned a corner here in 2022. After a series of unfortunate events, the Broncos found themselves in an unenviable 2nd-and-34 situation, desperately needing another touchdown to get back into the game once more.

Wilson absolutely drilled a ball into the face of Greg Dulcich. The ball had so much heat on it that Dulcich couldn’t catch it cleanly, but he made a tremendous adjustment after the ball careened off his face to set up a 3rd-and-11. And on that fateful 3rd-and-11, Russell Wilson would call his own number. Wilson escaped pressure and sprinted for a first down as we have seen him do so many times in his career. Unfortunately, he paid the price and took a nasty (but legal) hit from Frank Clark resulting in a concussion.

That play knocked Wilson out of the game, but it was representative of the fact that the Wilson many in Broncos Country thought was coming back in March has finally arrived. Who knows why Wilson and the offense have struggled so badly up to this point?

  • Offensive coaching
  • Injuries to many key players
  • Change of scenery not seamless for Russ
  • Russ playing injured?
  • Penalties killing drives

There are any number of factors you can point to, but the fact of the matter is that despite all of those factors, we finally saw “Dange-Russ” Wilson, Mr. Unlimited, the guy the Broncos invested tons of draft picks and tons of money into. The question is, was that a glimpse of things to come or was it a look at what could have been?

As I have stated almost all throughout the year — as disappointing as Wilson’s play has been at times, I refuse to believe he has fallen off the proverbial “cliff” at this stage. There’s more reason to believe the 2022 season was/is an outlier for Wilson due to injuries and other circumstances than to believe a top 10 quarterback annually has suddenly become one of the league’s worst.

If you agree that this game was more of a sign of things to come, then the question becomes when will we see Wilson play again? Will the Broncos shut him down for the season? Will he play this week vs. Arizona? The Broncos only have four games remaining. Similar to their comeback attempt against Kansas City, even the most valiant effort was too little, too late, but that doesn’t mean this team can’t give hope to the fan base if they finish this season strong.