Bridgewater’s caring, even-keeled approach keeps Broncos focused
The Denver Broncos’ hot start over the first three games of the season has become all but an afterthought following a lopsided home loss to the Baltimore Ravens and a listless defeat in Pittsburgh to a wobbly Steelers team that Denver was expected to beat.
Nevertheless, the Broncos are still 3-2, owners of a winning record and tied for second place in the AFC West with the Las Vegas Raiders team that they’re scheduled to meet on Sunday in Denver. In other words, it’s not all gloom and doom for the Broncos — not yet, at least — and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater knows it.
“I’m excited to get back to work this week. It’s a divisional game against the Raiders; looking forward to the opportunity,” Bridgewater said on Wednesday. “It’s another opportunity to get better, get this thing going in the right direction, get some guys back, get some guys healthy and just get back to playing the game we know how to play. It starts in practice. Everything starts in practice. It starts in the meeting rooms, and when you enter the facility, just having that sense of urgency. It’ll definitely be something we get going in practice. You can sense the urgency around here in meetings right now, so it’s definitely something we can practice.”
Even though he’s only 28, the veteran starter has already been through good seasons and bad; ones where injuries derailed him and ones where keeping his chin up was the only way to make it through the toughest of times. Bridgewater’s calm, cool demeanor seems to generate its own gravitational pull among his teammates, and at the Broncos’ Dove Valley headquarters, he explained how keeping his teammates on task, rather than overreacting to the past, is the best way to ensure that a two-game losing streak doesn’t turn into three.
“Honestly, you understand — and you learn through experience — that things happen in this league. It’s a league that’s full of ups and downs, and the past two weeks haven’t been going our way. As a guy who’s been a part of teams that have won a bunch of football games and lost some games, you just remind guys that you’ve got to be the same guy every day, win or lose,” Bridgewater explained. “You can’t let that affect your attitude, your mindset, and how you feel about your teammates. The rest? We come up with the perfect game plans, or the best game plans we can, to put ourselves in a position to win. Some things are still in our control, and every day that we come in this building, we’ve just got to have the right mindset.”
That matters for players like tight end Noah Fant, whose expected breakout season hasn’t yet materialized, despite opportunities galore thanks to injuries to receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler, and to fellow tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. Bridgewater famously went back to Okwuegbunam after a fumble at the goal line cost the Broncos against the Giants in the season opener. In that same game, he also made sure to keep throwing to Hamler, even though the speedy but ham-handed receiver had dropped a wide-open touchdown earlier. Bridgewater said that keeping Fant’s spirits up isn’t any different; it’s part and parcel of a quarterback’s job.
“It’s one of those things where, after a game, if you run to social media or you run to the internet and you look at what they’re saying — ‘Oh, you should get the ball more’ — or you look at the stat line and you see you didn’t get the targets that you wanted; it’s one of those things that can be like a cancer,” Bridgewater noted. “I think Noah has been great about the way the game plans have been going. In this league, and on any week, a different guy can be ‘the guy.’ That’s something that we just continue to tell Noah. Last week, we needed him to chip in protection a little bit to help with the Steelers’ pass rush. This week, he might get 12 targets. You never know how the league plays out and how each week plays out. Hopefully, we’re not running to social media and things like that to hear what’s being said, because we believe in Noah. We know the type of player that he is and the type of player he can be. At some point, it’s going to come down to Noah winning a one-on-one to win a football game; Noah winning a one-on-one to convert a third-down. As long as he understands that we value him and we appreciate him, then everything will go in the right direction for him.”
As far as Bridgewater is concerned, those leadership responsibilities also have to do with letting the players that can’t play know that they’re also needed, valued and missed. For many players, the relative isolation of rehabilitation and therapy while their teammates are out on the field can be disheartening — but not while Teddy’s around. He relayed a story about injured wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, who’s expected back at some point during the season.
“Last week, I had to warm up over there with the injured guys, and I told him, ‘Hey man, this isn’t an extended stay for me. I’m here for a day, so you guys need to have that same mindset.’ Jerry — he’s a guy who we value around here, but I’ve had those conversations with all of our guys who have gone down this year,” Bridgewater said. “I’m constantly texting (linebacker Bradley) Chubb. I FaceTime (wide receiver) K.J. (Hamler), and fist bump Jerry. I just remind those guys like (linebacker) Josey (Jewell): ‘Hey man, you guys are still a part of this. Believe it or not, you guys still are making an impact around here, whether it’s with the conversations that you’re having with people, just a smile or your presence.'”
Not only has Bridgewater been a solid, if not spectacular, quarterback for the Broncos this season, but through experience and sheer force of personality, he’s effectively become a position coach, therapist and cheerleader as well. For a Broncos team that’s facing an immensely important divisional game against their oldest and fiercest rival Sunday, it’s not entirely clear which role will turn out to be more important.
Not that it matters much to Bridgewater. “It’s whatever it takes.”
Shawn Drotar (@sdrotar) is the on-air host of “Sandy and Shawn;” weeknights from 9p-midnight on 104.3 The Fan.