ENGLEWOOD — September offered a journey into the franchise's glorious past.
Imagine, for three weeks, you find yourself among the league's best teams, a soprano siren piercing through the cacophony of squawks and alarms. It is refreshing to sit atop the AFC West standings, to thump opponents by double figures.
Then came last Sunday.
The Baltimore Ravens sauntered into Empower Field at Mile High and punched the Broncos in the throat. They were roughnecks, firing fists, taking liberties — it will be a surprise if they are not fined for hits on Teddy Bridgewater and Diontae Specner — and snatching dreams.
The warm glow of September gave way to the red face of October.
Opinions vary on the Ravens' decision to run on the final play of the game, but one truth remains: The Broncos were embarrassed, punting 10 times and offering little resistance. However, the NFL follows a pattern. Good teams rally after bad games.
If the Broncos are legitimate, this Sunday at Pittsburgh will be revealing. I asked Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons on why he thought this version of the Broncos will rebound?
"We have no choice. If we want to continue playing good football — and obviously Sunday's game was not a great game for us — like you said, you've got to respond," explained Simmons. "It's not the loss that defines you as a football team, it's how you respond to a loss that defines you as a good football team. Practice this week has to be more amped than it's been in weeks prior."
It is an interesting place the Broncos find themselves. They need not apologize for skunking bad teams. But their home loss revealed a gap that must be closed to be taken seriously.
And this road game matters more, even without the Ravens' debacle. Why? Scroll the schedule. Go ahead. I can wait. Tell me where the winnable games remain in visiting parks after Sunday's matchup against the spiraling Steelers?
Those are, in order, at Cleveland, Dallas, Kansas City, Las Vegas and Los Angeles Chargers.
The Broncos own two road wins. This would be an ideal time to add a third when digesting the upcoming slate.
"We are a bunch of dawgs. Everybody comes in here everyday with the right mindset," Broncos defensive end Shelby Harris said about bouncing back. "How are we going to get better today? We can't do anything about Baltimore. It's over. So how are we going to get better? How do you do that every day? I liked how we came in today."
It starts with the right mental approach, and improved health. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (concussion) remains on track to start Sunday based on his progress in the protocol. He attended meetings Wednesday and lifted, leaving him set to work on the field Thursday and practice on Friday. Sunday, Bridgewater suffered multiple vicious hits — one knocked off his helmet, the last left him concussed — creating concern. Thus far, he is graduating through his recovery well.
The Broncos are also hopeful their struggling offensive line will receive at least one reinforcement this week. Guards Dalton Risner (foot) and Graham Glasgow (knee) were limited in practice Wednesday. Risner nearly started last Sunday, so he is on track to return. Every member of the line allowed a sack against Baltimore, and right guard Netane Muti really scuffled in pass blocking. All-Pro left tackle Garett Bolles, too, is off to a clunky start, allowing three sacks in four games, admitting "I have to play better."
And that's where rebounds start. Players taking personal ownership. Each doing their job better. In the past four years, bad games became long droughts, spoiling seasons. The Broncos have insisted for months this team is different. Sunday provides another opportunity — the most important to date — to prove it.
Coach Vic Fangio revealed that receiver Jerry Jeudy (ankle) is making terrific progress, setting his return in roughly three weeks. When Jeudy sprained his ankle in the season opener, his recovery was estimated at 6-to-8 weeks. Right now, the Broncos believe he will come back at the short end of that projection. ...
Teammates remained impressed by rookie running back Javonte Williams' angry 31-yard burst where he broke five tackles and carried a defender more than 10 yards. "The dude wasn't going down. You see a run like that, that's the spark play. It gives everybody juice," receiver Courtland Sutton said. ...
New Broncos receiver David Moore did talk with former college teammate Trinity Benson before joining Denver. “He told me I better take advantage of this opportunity,” he said smiling. Brown is essentially replacing Benson, who was traded to Lions at end of camp, as K.J. Hamler's backup. Hamler was lost for the season with an ACL injury against the Jets.
The Steelers are averaging 14.7 points per game during their three-game losing streak, prompting national speculation on whether future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger should be benched.