SEATTLE — Russell Wilson lives life like a teleprompter follows him around. His words, while earnest, feel scripted or polished, depending on the viewing lens.
He has delivered in every way imaginable since joining the Broncos in March, becoming the face of the team, while making the franchise relevant again. He arrived in Seattle, trailed by local criticism that he was a declining player unworthy of the big contract landed in Denver.
Wilson walked into the stadium with intent, possibly trolling with a lime green suit, matching the Seahawks' uniforms, and a bow tie.
His formal wear matched the occasion of Monday Night Football. But he and the Broncos failed to overcome play that was the equivalent of an untucked shirt in a disappointing 17-16 loss at soldout Lumen Field.
The final snapshot featured Brandon McManus narrowly missing a 64-yard field goal in the waning seconds. While that decision was questionable — taking the ball out of Wilson's hands on a fourth-and-5 — the outcome was decided by football staples: Too many penalties (12 for 106 yards) and four red-faced trips to the red zone, resulting in two fumbles at the 1-yard line and no touchdowns.
"The reality was just we didn't get the ball in the end zone on those red zone plays, and turned it over a couple times down there. But the thing was I think how we kept answering, kept answering," said Wilson, striking a positive tone after completing 29 of 42 passes for 340 yards and one score. "I thought the energy, everybody was focused and locked in. I couldn't have been more locked in. Just felt like I was on every little detail. Just didn't go our way. Guess what? There are 16 more games to go and there is a lot more football to play. I'm looking forward to what we can do, especially when we get it all together at the same time."
Time is the Broncos' friend, but the schedule the second half of the season is not. They play a battery of contenders on the road, making this Wilson's unsuccessful debut sting even more. They had an opportunity to cleanse the sins of an ugly performance in a finale drive.
The Broncos forced the Seahawks to punt with four minutes left after a Bradley Chubb sack. The Seahawks challenged the spot on a first down Albert Okwuegbunam lunged for and was given by fractions of an inch, but the call was upheld.
This is when things got weird. The Broncos faced a third-and-14 with 1:11 left from their own 45 yard line. Wilson found Javonte Williams in the flat and chugged for nine yards. It left the Broncos on Seattle's 46-yard line. Tick, tock. New coach Nathaniel Hackett let 40 seconds expire from the clock before calling timeout, convinced the Broncos were in McManus's pre-determined range. McManus owns a career-long of 61 yards, set last season.
However, the belief was not supported by the stats. McManus is 0-for-6 on kicks of 62-plus yards since 2016.
Hackett took the ball out of Wilson's hands — the player who just signed a five-year, $245 million contract extension — and placed it on McManus' foot.
"I was surprised we were thinking field goal there," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll admitted.
McManus provided a healthy boot with 15 seconds left. He had the distance, but missed wide left.
"Yeah, we were right on the line and he had plenty of distance. He just missed it. Again, that's -- hey, Brandon gave it his best shot. That's a long field goal to hit. I think he's capable of that, but obviously I wish we would've got a lot closer. It put us in that weird spot there because we were in the field goal range but we were on that fourth down situation. I didn't think we were going to get that many yards, so I thought it was a great job by Javonte," Hackett said. "We just made the decision we wanted to take or shot there on that one."
McManus appreciated the trust. He has lobbied for these types of kicks in the past.
"We’ve been very good about that, understanding the whole aspects of the game. I told them the 46 left hash, and they got me exactly there. They had the faith in me. I’ve just got to make that kick," McManus said. "I wasn’t really worried about the distance necessarily. Once you get back that far, especially with a slight breeze right to left, once the ball starts losing velocity I knew it was going to fall left. So I wanted to aim it towards the right upright and, you know, it kind of started it down the middle, and it kind of fell off there. I wanted to aim it further right, and it didn’t happen.”
It provided a sour ending to the most anticipated opener since Peyton Manning in 2012. The Broncos arrived with prominence, but showed anything but elegance, their Monday might a vapor trail of penalties and miscues.
"We made too mistakes, myself included," said outside linebacker Randy Gregory, who forced a fumble.
Not scoring twice at the 1-yard line sabotaged Wilson's return home as the ball squirted loose from Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams in the third quarter. And another drive fizzled inside the 10 with 6:13 remaining in the game following a false start by Cour.tland Sutton, negating a touchdown by Andrew Beck.
The sloppy performance opened Hackett up to criticism for not playing his starters in preseason as he prioritized health over reps.
"I know people will say that. I understand that. But we just have things we need to clean up," safety Justin Simmons said. "I have unwavering belief in this team."
The Broncos won the toss, but loss control of the first quarter. Seattle converted two third downs, and exposed a Broncos weakness. Inside linebacker Alex Singleton started for the injured Josey Jewell, and looked comfortable against the run. However, he whiffed on a clear path sack of Geno Smith, allowing Wilson's replacement to float a 38-yard touchdown pass to Will Dissley for a touchdown with Bradley Chubb in coverage.
Smith entered the game as a vagabond and played like he belonged in Canton. He finished the first half with 17 completions to eight different targets in 18 attempts for 164 yards and two touchdowns. The second, a floater to tight end Colby Parkinson against a zone-man coverage combo that left Jonas Griffith looking for help, shoved Seattle ahead 17-10 with 2:24 remaining in the half.
It was symbolic of a forgettable 30 minutes for a vaunted defense under new boss Ejiro Evero. The Broncos were gashed for 219 yards and hit for the cycle on foolish penalties from taunting to late hits and interference. It was decidedly inelegant and concerning, the lone highlight a fourth down stop on Smith's quarterback sneak in the red zone.
"We can some positives from how we played in the second half," said defensive tackle Dre'Mont Jones after the Broncos shut out the Seahawks over the final 30 minutes, limiting them to 34 yards. "We had too many mistakes. But we can learn from it. It's one game."
Wilson took his first snap at 6:24 p.m. mountain time, beginning at his own 10-yard line as boos cascaded down on him like so many raindrops. Wilson leaned on Beck — he caught two passes, his first receptions since 2019 — and set up a 30-yard McManus field goal as the 77-yard drive stalled.
Trailing 10-3, Wilson went to work with a play that reminded why he carried a 19-4 record into primetime games. He connected on a 67-yard strike to Jerry Jeudy for his first touchdown since his rookie season. The ball was underthrown, but Jeudy clawed back and then burst down the sideline like he was running on nitromethane. It was Wilson's first target to a receiver, and it knotted score at 10.
"It would feel much better getting off to a good start if we had won," Jeudy said. "But at the end of the day, the game is over and it’s time to focus on next week.”
The lead proved shortlived. The Seahawks responded with Smith's second score, leaving Hackett to lament his defense's lack of discipline.
McManus shaved the deficit to 17-13 at the second quarter buzzer. Wilson finished the half 10 of 15 for 206 yards and one score.
The Broncos hit stride in their opening third quarter drive, but it ended with a transmission drop. Or more specifically a football slip, the first of two. On fourth down from the 1-yard line, Hackett faced his first tough decision. He showed nerves and went for it, but was second guessed as Melvin Gordon fumbled right as the ball was crossing the goal line.
"It was fourth down, so I was trying to reach the ball. I got stopped dead to rights. This is fourth down. That’s the only time it really is acceptable to reach, so that’s what I tried to do. I could have just locked it up, but I would have been short. I’m trying to reach and get it past the goal line," said Gordon, who led the Broncos with 58 yards on 12 carries. "They knocked it out. It is what it is. Like I said, if I didn’t try to reach for it, I don’t think it would have come out, but I was trying to make a play."
A few minutes and mistakes later, the Broncos had 11 penalties and 13 points. Then the defense finally put his foot down. Gregory stripped D.K. Metcalf of the ball, his first big play as a Bronco. He told Denver7 he nearly signed with the Colts as a free agent, but chose the Broncos because of Wilson.
Denver romped down the field after the takeaway and turned philanthropic again. On third down from the 1-yard, right guard Graham Glasgow was shoved into the backfield, the contact jarring the ball loose from Williams (seven carries, 43 yards, 11 catches, 65 yards).
Another empty drive left the the Broncos trailing 17-13 entering the fourth quarter.
It was then that the defense forced Seattle's first punt, perhaps tired of hearing the crowd chant "Geno!"
The Broncos responded with a 15-play drive and dissolved in the red zone as their pre-snap operation remained clunky. Tight end Eric Tomlinson missed a touchdown by an inch, and Beck's score was scrubbed because of Courtland Sutton's false start. The Broncos settled for a chip shot from McManus, leaving them trailing 17-16 with six minutes left.
Even with all the gaffes, the Broncos had an opportunity to steal a win in the waning moments. Instead, they took a kick to the teeth.
"First of all, no excuses. I think it’s important when you lose to give credit to the other team and at the same time not have any excuses. At the end of the day, we have to be better," left guard Dalton Risner said. "Of course, we’re having growing pains. That’s with every team. Every team is doing that in Week 1. But, there’s no excuses."
Right guard Quinn Meinerz left the game with a hamstring injury. Graham Glasgow took over in his place. ...
Jeudy led the Broncos with 102 yards receiving, the third 100-yard game of his career. ...
Bradley Chubb finished with two sacks after failing to record a sack in an injury-ravaged 2021 season.