DENVER (AP) — Sean Payton finally showed his ground game some love.
He steadfastly stuck with a heavy dose of the handoffs that established the tempo and kept Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce on the sideline for long stretches Sunday as the Denver Broncos dismantled the Kansas City Chiefs for the first time since the Peyton Manning era.
Whether Payton and GM George Paton show similar restraint at Tuesday's trade deadline is anybody's guess.
The Broncos (3-5) have been considered sellers for weeks as they bumbled, stumbled and fumbled through what was supposed to be the soft portion of their schedule. Suddenly, they look like they've figured things out on offense, defense and special teams and the second half of the season doesn't seem so daunting now.
Still, taking the long view, the Broncos need more draft picks in 2024 either to fill huge holes on their roster or as bargaining chips to move up for a quarterback.
And there's no shortage of Broncos veterans coveted by contenders, including starting receivers Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy, inside linebacker Josey Jewell and star safety Justin Simmons, who had two takeaways in Denver's 24-9 throttling of Kansas City, its first win over the Chiefs in eight years.
“We’re not openly or even remotely shopping anyone,” Payton said Monday. “Have people called? Sure, they have. ... We’re preparing (for a game against the Bills) right now. I’ve got a Buffalo cutup that I’m going to look at. I’m going to look at the league’s touchdowns from yesterday, and I’m sure at some point, I’ll meet with George.”
The Broncos averaged a meager 22 rushes a game over the first seven games under Payton, next to last in the league. Despite their O-line's win rate being among the top handful of teams in the NFL, their use of play-action was sparse. So, they weren't capitalizing on their biggest strength.
That all changed Sunday when they ran the ball 40 times and threw just 19 passes.
Russell Wilson said the Broncos wanted to set the tone of physicality by running the ball early and often and “in terms of the passing game, we wanted to capitalize on our opportunities when they were there.”
They did just that, with Wilson throwing three TD passes with no interceptions.
“I thought it was a really great game plan by coach Payton, all the coaches. I think the offensive coaches did a really good job of paining the picture of what we wanted to do," Wilson said.
Wilson and others pointed to the win over the defending Super Bowl champs — and their first over Mahomes in 13 tries — as a game-changer.
“We set the standard (of) how good we can be," Wilson said. "We have a lot more season left. I’ve been saying to you guys, it’s a process, it’s a journey, but we believe. We believe in who we are. We believe in the players that we have. We believe in the coaching staff that we have. We believe in the determination and resilience that we have. We believe in this organization and where we can go and what we can do. We’re going to stay the course.”
Tuesday will show if his coach and GM feel the same.
Denver’s rejuvenated defense has surrendered 19, 17 and nine points in the last three games after allowing an average of 36.2 over the first five weeks. Not only that, but they held the Chiefs to just one touchdown in eight red-zone trips in their two games against Kansas City that were sandwiched around a win over the Packers.
WHAT NEEDS WORK
The passing game, which will be without speedster Brandon Johnson (hamstring) for three more games. Sutton and Jeudy both had a pair of catches Sunday and rookie Marvin Mims Jr. only had one target despite being the most dangerous ball-catcher on the field.
RB Javonte Williams carried 27 times for 85 yards after gaining 82 yards on 15 carries a week earlier. That's the kind of use and production that will help Denver cover up its offensive weaknesses.
After such a thorough whooping of the Super Bowl champs, it's hard to say anyone's stock fell Sunday with the possible exception of suspended S Kareem Jackson, who has to serve one more game as punishment for his vicious hit on Packers TE Luke Musgrave, a hit that wasn't nearly as bad as some of his others this season that have drawn flags and fines.
For the second straight week, the Broncos reported no injuries from the game.
3 — The consecutive weeks Sutton has caught a touchdown pass, something no Broncos receiver had accomplished since Demaryius Thomas in 2017.
6 — Touchdown catches this season by Sutton, tying his career high set in 2019.
1 — Touchdown catch by Jeudy in 2023.
The Broncos head into their bye on a two-game winning streak, their first since Weeks 2-3 last season. The players scattered Monday for a week's vacation, and the team could have a different look by the time they reconvene next week depending on how active the front office is at the trade deadline.
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