It’s a different year and the same old story for the 2023 Denver Broncos.
While the Broncos look a bit smoother and a little more dynamic under the leadership of new head coach Sean Payton, they remain the same old franchise that can’t finish off games and comes up just short when it matters most.
The 2023 Broncos are off to a 0-2 start despite starting out the season with a soft schedule versus two below average opponents in the Las Vegas Raiders and Washington Commanders. Their latest loss — a 35-33 defeat to the Commanders — came in the most heartbreaking of fashion after blowing an 18-point lead and losing after a miraculous Hail Mary play.
The scene was very familiar for the Broncos as Denver held a 21-3 lead just prior to halftime. With Russell Wilson firing on all cylinders — he had two touchdowns in the first quarter of the team — it appeared the Broncos would ride their way to an easy Week 2 victory.
Except that wasn’t the case at all.
Things are never easy for this franchise. With the Broncos holding all of the momentum midway through the second quarter and at Washington’s 45-yard-line, Wilson fumbled the ball on a quarterback run — he should have slid — and the Commanders recovered.
Although Denver held a 21-3 lead at that point, they were never able to recover — the Broncos were outscored 32-6 until a miraculous Hail Mary play at the end of regulation. And in typical Broncos fashion, they failed to convert the 2-point conversion as Wilson threw an incomplete pass to Courtland Sutton with an opportunity to tie the game.
This was supposed to be a different Broncos team. With Payton — a former Super Bowl champion head coach and renowned offensive genius — leading the way, Denver was supposed to beat these types of teams. They were supposed to finish off the opposition when they had them down for the count.
However, the 2023 Broncos appear to be just a smoother looking operation than their 2022 counterpart. While Wilson appears more efficient — he threw a 60-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Mims during the first half — he still declines as the game progresses and can’t seem to convert big plays when the Broncos need it most.
After starting out the game 6-for-8 for 154 passing yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions with a 156.2 passer rating in the first half, Wilson went through the majority of the second half struggling just to move the ball. In fact, outside of the Broncos’ 50-yard hail mary touchdown catch, Wilson went 11-for-23 for 94 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception.
It’s no surprise that Payton sent a direct message to Wilson following the game.
“There was a number of drives where we’re late with personnel, getting out of the huddle we took a while,” said Payton during the postgame presser. “That’s got to change. We burned timeouts in the first half, and I’m not used to doing. We’ve got to be better. I’ve got to be better, Russ has got to be sharper getting the play out.”
Of the Broncos’ five offensive drives in the second half — outside of the final one — three of the five drives either ended in three-and-outs or a turnover. The other two ended in field goals.
Since the start of the Wilson era, the Broncos are now 4-11 in games decided by eight points or less. In a league where wins are dictated by which team can pull out the big play when it matters most, the Broncos are the ultimate losers.
This comes just a week after after Denver lost another heartbreaker at home to the Las Vegas Raiders. After scoring a respectable 13 points at halftime, Denver scored just three points during the entire second half.
It was the same story as Wilson started out hot, going 18-of-20 for 130 yards and two touchdowns over the Broncos’ first three drives (all in the first half) against the Raiders. However, he finished the game just 9-of-14 for 47 yards, including going three-and-out on Denver’s final drive while trailing 17-16.
It’s clear that this is a make-or-break season for Wilson. While Payton will likely be here for the long term after signing a five-year deal worth $18 million per year — he’s the second-highest paid coach in the NFL and all of American sports — Wilson’s future is not so certain in Denver.
The 34-year-old quarterback — he’ll turn 35 years old in November — Wilson could soon be on his last legs in Denver. While his contract — a five-year, $242 million contract he signed just prior to the start of the 2022 season — makes him hard to move, he could theoretically be traded during the 2024 offseason.
If the Broncos trade Wilson in a post-June 1st deal, Denver would absorb roughly a $67 million cap hit over the course of five seasons. However, they’d save $189 million over that same time frame, including at least $37 million each season from the 2025 season onwards.
While the move would make obvious sense for financial reasons, the question is, what team would bother absorbing a declining and aging quarterback with the worst contract in the NFL?
It’s no coincidence that Payton has nudged Wilson several times in recent months with his comments, including telling his franchise quarterback to “stop kissing babies.”
“Will you f****** stop kissing all the babies?” he told Wilson, according to ESPN’s Seth Wickersham. “You’re not running for public office.”
The Broncos obviously have a lot of problems. The defensive unit — which was a lone bright spot during a tough 2022 season — has clearly regressed under defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. Joseph was brought back to Denver after an underwhelming stint as head coach during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, going 11-21 during his tenure with the Broncos.
It’s not surprising considering Joseph’s defensive units have never ranked in the top 10 in the eight years he’s served as either a head coach or defensive coordinator.
This isn’t a team anywhere close to contending. Furthermore, it’s a team that looks like a better-looking version than the one from last season — with the same results.
If the Broncos don’t show progress and start winning games this season, something’s gotta change. And while it may not all be Wilson’s fault, it’s the star quarterback who is more likely to take the blame than anyone else.