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Broncos' Payton encouraged by win, but admits team must play much better

Defense finally stood up in the fourth quarter
Broncos Bears Football
Posted at 3:33 PM, Oct 02, 2023

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — During Sunday's game at Soldier Field, his team trailing 28-14, Sean Payton began looking for answers. He turned to scissors.

Wait, what?

Administrative assistant Paul Kelly walked up to Payton and snipped off his sleeves.

"The pullover had kind of an elastic finish right by the wrist and there was no air getting in," Payton said. "So, we had to give it some air."

It proved a metaphor for Sunday's victory over the Bears. The Broncos can breathe again, finally on board with their first win as they aim to get this season back on the rails.

Monday, Payton told his players he was pleased with the fight they showed in erasing a 21-point deficit but reminded them it's time to roll up those cutoff sleeves.

"I’m encouraged that we fought back into that game. But let’s not finish (Monday) and feel like we’re content at all with how we played (defensively). Too many things that are still disappointing and we need to clean it up," Payton said. "And the same thing offensively. We stalled for a period after the first touchdown. We went through a third of the game struggling. That sense of urgency has to exist again this week. We’re going to play against a lot better teams here in the next month, month-and-a-half.''

The Broncos found a path to success late in the fourth quarter in Chicago. Offensively, quarterback Russell Wilson delivered his best finish of the season. When it mattered most, Wilson went 5-for-9 for 106 yards with a touchdown in the final 15 minutes.

Kareem Jackson

Broncos

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"A beautiful story of resilience," said Wilson, who is on pace for 36 touchdowns and eight interceptions this season. "It was a we thing."

It would have been difficult to say that with a straight face before the final period. Opponents were on all-time heater against the Broncos' defense, scoring 130 points in nine-plus quarters. The Broncos put their foot down. In the fourth, Justin Fields suddenly looked mortal after riddling the Broncos for four touchdowns, while throwing one incompletion on a Hail Mary.

In the final period, Fields went 5-for-11 with two turnovers, stripped of the ball by Nik Bonitto that turned in a 35-yard Coop and Score for Jonathon Cooper, and throwing an interception to safety Kareem Jackson on the final possession.

"We have a ton of competitors. We have the same group of guys we had last year that was one of the best in the game, so if we communicate and do things the right way we will be pretty tough to beat," Jackson said. "But we have to play that way all the time, not just some of the time."

After watching the film, I asked Payton what was the key adjustment the defense made. Fields was largely ineffective down the stretch, but it started upfront.

"I think we struggled fitting the run in the first half. They had 170 yards rushing. Their two top targets throughout the season ended up with big numbers— (Bears WR D.J.) Moore and (Bears TE Cole) Kmet. We were able to fit the run better," Payton said. "I think that noticeably helped, and we got off the field on third down."

Now comes the hard part. Doing it again. The Jets arrive in town with anger shrouding this matchup after Payton criticized the franchise and ripped former Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett for his 15-game disaster in Denver last year. Payton was asked if he had reached out to Jets coach Robert Saleh or Hackett since his comments in July but said he had previously addressed the issue.

It's not going away. Maybe it can motivate a team that now has a little more confidence and a reason to exhale.