In Broncos’ loss to Raiders, QB Russell Wilson shows improvement

Quarterback Russell Wilson was in his bag.

On the Broncos’ first offensive drive Sunday against the Raiders, he threw dimes, made plays out of the pocket and looked more like his Seattle days than the version from last season that had some wondering if he was near the end of his career.

Wilson threw a 21-yard pass down the sideline to wide receiver Brandon Johnson. Later, he connected with tight ends Adam Trautman and Greg Dulcich for 10-plus-yard completions. But the true indicator that Wilson still had some dog left in him was on second-and-goal when he scrambled to the right and rocketed a pass to the back of the end zone to wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey for a 5-yard touchdown.

Unfortunately for the Broncos, that was the high point for Wilson, as Denver failed to deliver down the stretch in a 17-16 loss to the Raiders.

In Denver’s season opener at Empower Field at Mile High, Wilson completed 27 of 34 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns in an encouraging performance. But if the Broncos want to make this situation work, he and the offense have to close out games.

“I think we played the type of football we wanted to play with the versatility,” Wilson said. “I feel great, but the one that’s disappointing is that we didn’t come up with the win.”

Wilson spent the offseason shedding weight in order to make plays with his feet like he did with the Seahawks. And he developed a strong chemistry with Payton, who was hired to help get the $245 million quarterback back on track.

Payton’s influence was noticeable in the first half. Wilson hit open targets and helped the Broncos move quickly down the field, especially in the final two minutes of the second quarter. He led a nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive that ended with him scrambling out of the pocket and throwing a touchdown pass to wide receiver Courtland Sutton.

“I thought Russ played his (butt) off today,” Broncos right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “I thought he played well. Made plays (and) was creative. He was a little vintage in some aspects from what I’ve seen from him the past 11 years.”

Wilson ended the first half 17-of-19 for 125 yard and a 129.2 passer rating. McGlinchey was impressed with Wilson’s off-script throws in the red zone and how the 12-year veteran commanded the huddle. He thought they didn’t have pre-snap mistakes, which was one of the offense’s biggest issues in 2022.

“I thought we played well on offense,” Wilson said. “We had six possessions, and I thought we did well on all of them.”

The offensive line kept Wilson upright for the most part, though he was sacked twice. Denver’s running back duo, Javonte Williams and Samaje Perine, added another dimension as well with their pass-catching and violent running.

Yet after a productive first half, Wilson threw for only 52 yards in the second while the Broncos were held to three points. Payton said tight end Greg Dulcich’s leg injury, which kept him out the entire second half, played a factor as he had to change personnel groupings.

“Dulcich is a threat in the passing game,” Wilson said. “Obviously, having Dulcich (injured) and (wide receiver) (Jerry) Jeudy not in there (hurt).”

Jeudy’s absence due to a hamstring injury was evident. The Broncos didn’t have a single pass-catcher record 50-plus receiving yards. Sutton had a team-best 32 yards while Johnson totaled 31.

Wilson thought the Broncos played well enough to win, but they fell short on a few drives. In the third quarter, he threw a deep pass to wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, who had his foot out of bounds, negating what could’ve been a long gain. Wilson’s throw to Mims on third-and-7 was short of a first down, then kicker Wil Lutz missed a 55-yard field goal attempt with 9:36 left in the quarter.

Denver was down 17-16 and facing third-and-long with 5:51 left in the fourth when his throw to tight Adam Trautman was well short of a first down. Denver never got the ball again, opening the Payton era with a heartbreaking defeat.

“I think the biggest thing is finding one more play,” Wilson said.

Broncos reporter Parker Gabriel contributed to this report.

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