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There are reasons to be (cautiously) optimistic after the Broncos win

(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Shoot the confetti. Drop the balloons. Fire the cannons.

The Broncos won! In September!

On Sunday in the Meadowlands, it was hardly a contest. Denver dominated from start to finish, winning by a 27-13 count that suggests the game was much closer than it was in reality.

As a result, there is plenty to feel good about on the first Monday morning of the 2021 season. The Broncos have a lot to build upon.

For one, they ended their winless streak in the first month of the season. Denver had lost eight straight games in September, including an 0-7 mark under Vic Fangio.

But that was just the beginning of the good news. There were way more positives than the head coach getting above .500 for the first time in his career.

To begin with, Teddy Bridgewater was fantastic. After winning the offseason quarterback battle, the veteran had a great debut in a Broncos uniform.

On the day, Bridgewater finished 28-of-36 for 264 yards and two touchdowns. Those are good numbers, but not great. They don’t begin to reflect the way the QB played, however.

Time after time, Bridgewater made plays on third and fourth down to keep drives alive. He escaped pressure to extend plays, avoid sacks and keep the chains moving. He was effective to an extent that isn’t reflected in the final statistics.

Part of that was Bridgewater’s ability to get all of his weapons involved. Nine different Broncos caught a pass on Sunday, with Jerry Jeudy and Noah Fant leading the way with six receptions apiece.

That’s a tremendous job by Bridgewater, as well as offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, to spread the ball around. It kept the Giants off balance all day, as Denver was hitting New York’s defense from various angles.

Speaking of defense, that was another positive for the Broncos on Sunday. Denver was very good on that side of the ball.

Essentially, they held New York to seven points; the Giants scored a meaningless touchdown on the final play of the game. And they forced a game-changing turnover when Daniel Jones was about to get his team back into things.

Both of those accomplishments are crucial. If the Broncos are going to be a great defense, they should stymie a team as inept offensively as the Giants. And given that Denver has invested heavily on that side of the ball, they need to make momentum-swinging plays.

Headlining the defense was Von Miller. After missing all of last season with a foot injury, there were plenty of people questioning if the 32-year-old linebacker had anything left in the tank. He provided the answer on Sunday.

In his first action in 20 months, Miller recorded the Broncos only two sacks on the day. On both plays, he showed that he still has the skills that made him the MVP of Super Bowl 50. But it was his overall play, particularly against the run, that was encouraging. Miller wasn’t taking any plays off, as was the case in 2019.

All of this adds up to plenty of reasons for optimism. It was a good start, especially for a team that hasn’t enjoyed much success in recent years.

But it doesn’t mean it’s time to start printing playoff tickets. There’s no reason to get Mayor Hancock to plan the parade route.

There are still plenty of causes of concern. There are still things that the Broncos need to improve upon if they’re going to have a winning season.

For one, they need to be more explosive offensively. Yes, Melvin Gordon had a 70-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, but that was in garbage time. When the game was still competitive, Denver wasn’t able to make enough big plays.

Their first four scoring drives consisted of 15, seven, 16 and 10 plays, respectively. That’s nice work, but also hard to sustain.

This point is highlighted by the fact that three of the marches had to be extended with fourth-down conversions. That’s not a recipe for success on a weekly basis.

It works against the Giants. It might even work next week against the Jaguars and the following Sunday against the Jets. But it’s not going to work against the Ravens, Steelers, Browns, Chiefs and other playoff-caliber teams on the Broncos schedule.

Denver is also going to have to be more balanced on offense. The reality of what transpired on Sunday is skewed by Gordon’s late touchdown scamper.

Take out that run and the veteran had 31 yards on 10 carries. Javonte Williams wasn’t much better, amassing 45 yards on 14 carries. Combined, the two running backs averaged 3.1 yards per carry outside of the big play. That’s not going to work.

Repeatedly, the Broncos were in bad down-and-distance situations against the Giants. They were able to escape them because New York’s defense isn’t very good. That won’t be the case later in the season.

That’s why Sunday’s win should make everyone in Broncos Country cautiously optimistic. Yes, it was a good start. Yes, there were a lot of positive signs. But it doesn’t mean Denver has righted the ship.

Vance Joseph won both of his season openers as the Broncos head coach. Trevor Siemian had great numbers in September. It was fool’s gold in both instances.

That doesn’t mean Sunday’s win shouldn’t be celebrated. It doesn’t mean the performances of Bridgewater, Miller and other standouts should be ignored.

It does mean, however, that pumping the breaks would be a good idea. Waiting to declare that Denver has found their quarterback, that their head coach has turned the corner and the troubles of the past are in the rearview mirror would be prudent.

But for the first time in a long time, there are reasons to be optimistic. And that feels good on a Monday morning in September.

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