Ten things we learned from the Broncos’ 23-13 win over the Vikings
DENVER — The score — a 23-13 win — and the fervor with which the Broncos played against the Minnesota Vikings ensures that the questions about the Broncos’ intensity that arose in Buffalo seven days earlier will cease.
But that doesn’t mean much. Let’s focus on what does:
1. HAMLER CAME THROUGH JUST FINE
Hamler couldn’t stop smiling when he answered questions in the locker room afterward.
“I’m feeling good. Real good,” he said.
“I’km just blessed. I’ve been through a lot this past offseason. Just seeing where I was then and now, it was a blessing.”
And most importantly, Hamler pronounced himself good to go for the Seahawks game.
It didn’t hurt that he absorbed a shot from Minnesota safety Myles Dorn. Officials whistled Dorn for a 15-yard penalty. Hamler was none the worse for the wear.
“I think we all need that,” he said. “It wasn’t really nothing to me; I got right back up. But that’s football. You’ve just got to get used to it.”
Hamler playing and catching three short passes for 18 yards was not a surprise. But Hamler staying in the game until the end of the second quarter was. But he had no complaints.
“In my mind, yeah. I wanted to, really,” he said when asked whether he expected to play that long. “I’m glad I did. I’m glad I got out there and got a lot of plays and reps in a row, just to build up endurance.”
2. BUT BRANDON JOHNSON DID NOT …
… and ended the night with a walking boot on his left foot and ankle. He sprained his ankle on the first play from scrimmage.
“I was just blocking, backside on a play, and I got rolled up on,” he said. “But it’s nothing crazy. My ankle will be good.
A few moments later, Johnson added, “I ain’t really feeling it right now. I’m in a boot; it’s kind of like I’m walking on air right now.”
But when asked whether it was a high ankle sprain, Johnson answered, “Mm-hmm.” That would indicate a recovery measured in weeks, not days.
“I tried my best to go back out there, but it wasn’t the best move,” he said. “It wasn’t smart. So, now, I’m here. But ultimately, I’m happy with what I put on tape so far.”
Tim Patrick’s season-ending ACL and Hamler’s recovery from the 2021 injuries gave Johnson plenty of first-team repetitions. But now, the decision the Broncos must make regarding the undrafted rookie will be complicated by his likely unavailability for the first weeks of the season.
3. DID RYPIEN DO ENOUGH?
The box score would say, “No,” as he finished the preseason with a passer rating of 85.5 — 11.6 below that of Josh Johnson. An interception provided the difference; at the end of an 89-yard drive in the first quarter, Rypien looked for Hamler across the middle, but Dorn got a hand on the football, deflecting it to Luiji Vilain.
“That was a bang-bang play,” Rypien said. “I though it could have been called pass interference, but they said it wasn’t. You don’t like tipped picks, especially down there. But other than that, I thought the guys did an unbelievable job.”
And Rypien was no slouch, going 14-of-21 for 137 yards and leading a touchdown drive.
“For the most part, I thought it was a really good day,” he said.
Josh Johnson entered after halftime and went 11-of-14 for 107 yards. He didn’t lead a touchdown drive, but he didn’t turn over the football, and the Broncos kicked two field goals on his watch.
“I felt like I was good,” Johnson said. “I felt like I was in sync with the offense, moving the ball, getting the ball out of my hands, doing everything that was asked of me to do.”
Rypien hoped for better on his attempt at the two-minute drill; that drive petered out and ended in a punt. Johnson had most of the two-minute work in practice during camp.
If the coaches opt for experience, Johnson will get the call. He didn’t do anything to lose it.
“It’s going to be a hard decision to see where we go with that,” Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said.
4. BOONE’S A BOON TO THE GROUND GAME
Just as he did on the first series seven days earlier in Buffalo, running back Mike Boone provided an early spark. His sharp cuts and missed tackles led to a pair of double-digit gains — 16 and 11 yards — on the first series.
Boone left after the first quarter, but Devine Ozigbo helped sustain the momentum. His 26-yard gallop early in the third quarter was Denver’s longest run of the night. Ozigbo finished the game with 59 rushing yards, making a strong case for a practice-squad spot.
But overall, the holes were plentiful and the cuts crisp. Denver finished with 148 rushing yards, a robust 5.9-yards-per-carry average and 8 8 rushing first downs — 5 more than in the previous two games combined.
“I think they accepted the challenge,” Josh Johnson said. “Coach [Hackett] challenged ’em early in the week. We knew the defense that they were playing, and we knew it would give us a good opportunity to run with the ball. We knew we were going to commit to the run tonight, and every guy rose to the occasion.”
5. A NIGHT TO FORGET FOR SPECIAL TEAMS
Two mental errors defined the game.
It began on the opening kickoff. Jalen Virgil attempted to field the football, but muffed it near the left sideline. The ball squirted out of bounds at the Denver 3-yard line. The offense recovered and drove into the Minnesota red zone, but for Virgil, it sullied what had been a promising month.
In the third quarter, punt coverage went askew.
Sam Martin did his job; with the line of scrimmage at midfield, he dropped a punt down at the 5-yard line. But long snapper Jacob Bobenmoyer, who hustled downfield, did not swat the ball back into the field of play before he crossed the goal line. Thus, what should have been a 48-yard punt downed at around the 2-yard line became a touchback with a net of just 30 yards.
6. THE PUNT DUEL: WAITMAN HAD A SLIGHT EDGE
Special-teams coordinator Dwayne Stukes will factor in that Martin’s punt should have been downed inside the 10-yard line. But on balance, the day belonged to Corliss Waitman.
Both had punts from near midfield. Martin had bad luck on the Broncos’ attempt to down the punt. Waitman didn’t leave it to chance; he launched an arcing punt that ended in a fair catch at the Minnesota 9.
But the difference came on their other punts. Waitman had a 40-yarder that resulted in a fair catch. He didn’t get the distance he wanted, but he had a 4.79-second hang time that took a return out of play.
Martin’s other punt was longer — 45 yards — but remained in the air just 3.57 seconds. That allowed Minnesota’s Ihmir Smith-Marsette to take off; he returned it 21 yards. As a result, Waitman’s net average of 40.5 yards towered over Martin’s 27.5-yard net average. And even if Bobenmoyer had downed the punt successfully in a best-case scenario of the 1-yard line, Waitman would have still had a 4.0-yard edge in net average.
Stukes has cited hang time as a key. Over the course of training camp and the preseason, Waitman has a clear edge in that metric.
7, THE UPS AND DOWNS OF JALEN VIRGIL
His muffed kickoff began a night that saw the best and worst of what he can do.
During a two-play sequence of the fourth quarter, he got open down the right side of the field on third-and-11. Johnson found him, and he turned upfield, finishing with a 34-yard gain.
But on the next snap, officials flagged Virgil for holding, wiping out a 16-yard gallop by Devine Ozigbo around right end.
Virgil was second on the team in receiving yards with 58, trailing only Seth Williams, who had 68 yards. But with the depth at wide receiver, Virgil might be headed for a practice-squad spot.
8. DEFENSIVE STANDOUTS
Jonathan Cooper, Nik Bonitto, McTelvin Agim and Delarrin Turner-Yell made dynamic closing arguments Saturday.
Cooper split a sack with Jonathan Harris and added a tackle for a loss. He had three pressures last week, giving him a second consecutive strong preseason. His work the last two weeks is all the more impressive given that he missed team-period reps in training camp due to a finger injury.
Bonitto finished with a flourish, posting back-to-back sacks of Minnesota QB Kellen Mond in the game’s final moments. One of them resulted in a fumble. The late flurry was reminiscent of his 4-sack explosion in the joint practice with Dallas.
Agim had a sack, two forced fumbles and two passes defensed at the line of scrimmage. Most of training camp and the preseason was quiet for Agim, but he roared in recent days. During Wednesday’s full-pad practice, he had a pick-6 after deflecting a Russell Wilson pass at the line of scrimmage.
And Turner-Yell seemed to be everywhere, with a sack, a tackle for loss and four total stops. He might have done enough to sneak onto the 53-man roster.
9. GOOD GAME MANAGEMENT
For the second time in the preseason, Hackett called timeout to maximize a two-minute drill opportunity. With the Vikings facing third-and-6 at their 46 and 2:05 remaining, Hackett called timeout. When his defense forced a subsequent incompletion, he ensured that Rypien and the offense would have 1:49 to operate.
It didn’t succeed; the offense gained a single first down and then punted. But Hackett gave them a chance.
It’s a good sign to see this coaching staff on top of game management.
10. AND NOW, THEY WAIT …
To keep his mind off the agony of cut time, Rypien said he might play golf and pickleball … but that he expected he’d have a to-do list from his wife. He’s been through this three times … and was cut each time, but brought back to the practice squad.
Josh Johnson has even more experience with the ups and downs of the roster deadline. All he can do is hope for the best, and appreciate what transpired.
“At the end of the day, this is Disneyland in here. We all know what the real world is like. When I’m not playing, I’ve had to experience that,” he said. “It keeps me humble and it always keeps me focused on what’s important.”