JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Courtland Sutton spent last year working in the shadows, embracing the loneliness of rehabilitation. He shredded his ACL in the second game, leading to surgery and countless hours in the weight room. Setting an example in recovery matters to coaches, but feels hollows to players.
Weekdays make the man, but Sundays define him.
Two weeks into the season, the Broncos remain undefeated and their former top offensive player regained his status at soggy TIAA Field. Teddy Bridgewater proved more accurate than a DNA test and Sutton set a career-high in yardage as Denver chugged to a 23-13 victory, providing Maybelline to special teams missteps and a plethora of penalties.
"We are going to continue to fight," Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller said. "I keep telling you. We are a different team."
As promised last week, Teddy got greedy, his no-seat belt required risks changing the outcome on two completions to Sutton. Bridgewater stayed stubborn in the third quarter. He failed to connect on multiple deep strikes to Sutton in the first 20 minutes. He couldn't take a hint as a result the Broncos return for their home opener against the Jets two games above .500 for the first time.
Sutton finished with nine catches for 159 yards, shattering his previous high of 120 yards.
"He's back," coach Vic Fangio said.
On the opening drive of the third quarter, Bridgewater faced a second-and-7 from the 28. He lofted a rainbow to Sutton, covering 55 yards on the play. Moments later, tight end Noah Fant scored on a 12-yard pass, extending the Broncos lead to 17-7. For all intents and purposes, the outcome was decided as the Broncos defense made Trevor Lawrence miserable.
"To even just be able to practice is a blessing. I thank God everyday I am in this position," Sutton said. "I have had a lot of people in my corner supporting me. I take each play as an opportunity to make a difference and I an extremely grateful."
Ball control has defined the Broncos' offense the first two weeks. However, sometimes you have to junk the mud flaps and hit the gas. That four-play, 75-yard drive proved critical.
"We just told our guys you've got to win your one-on-one battles, across the board. To see that, we all know how hard Courtland has worked," Bridgewater said. "Our guys are capable of making big plays. And it was on display with Courtland."
Lawrence, the top overall pick, started the game 5-for-7 for 73 yards as the Jaguars secured a 7-0 lead. He looked like a generational talent. Over the remainder of the game, he looked like a rookie, completed 9 of his next 25 passes for 45 yards. The Broncos allowed 108 yards over Jacksonville's final eight drives. Denver intercepted Lawrence twice, one from Kareem Jackson and an acrobatic catch by Pat Surtain II with toe-drag swag in his first career start.
"I told you," Miller said.
Added Fangio, "That was a hell of a pick wasn't it?"
Demonstrating poise and feel in the pocket, Bridgewater finally connected on a deep strike, hooking up with Sutton on a 33-yard strike on his third attempt. In the red zone, similar to the opener, Bridgewater began to percolate. He found a wide open Tim Patrick on a crossing route for a 12-yard score, shoving Broncos ahead 10-7 in the first play after the two-minute warning. Denver is 6-1 when leading at halftime the past two seasons.
Bridgewater finished 26-for-34 for 328 yards and two scores.
"Teddy doesn't panic. I wish I could say that we coached that into him, but that's what we got when we traded for him," Fangio said. "It's in his DNA."
Added Sutton, "Teddy is Teddy. He sees things that we don't see. It's great playing with a veteran."
This is the type of resilience that paints this team differently. They sprouted in the rain. They took a knee as time expired and still dominated by 10 points.
It started shaky.
The Jaguars, playing before friends and family in another non-sellout, generated their own energy. Lawrence, a generational talent in college, showed patience and poise, doing something the Broncos have not done since 2019. The Jaguars scored a touchdown on their first possession. Lawrence picked on Kyle Fuller, who was the target of a sketchy illegal contact and carved up man coverage. Lawrence capped the drive with a 25-yard beauty to Marvin Jones Jr. with Fuller trailing.
"We just had to trust our eyes," explained Surtain of the adjustments after the first drive.
The Broncos responded after taking a punch to the throat. Bridgewater remained efficient, finishing 6-for-6 for 53 yards. Bridgewater suffered a 16-yard sack in the red zone -- there was a miscommunication on the left side of the line -- submarining a chance for a touchdown. Yet, the Broncos shaved the deficit to 7-3 with 26 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Staying in the game after taking a punch is paramount on the road.
So is playing clean. Denver needs better.
The Broncos suffered multiple special teams penalties and their secondary was flagged twice in the first half. A rather brutal 36-yard penalty on Surtain II -- Lawrence underthrew the pass as Josey Jewell hit him -- shoved the Jaguars into field goal range. in the second quarter The Broncos defense stiffened, and Josh Lambo chunked a 52-yard field goal. First year quarterbacks starting for the first time against a Vic Fangio defense are 4-11.
The Jaguars flirted with relevance briefly in the fourth quarter after Jamal Agnew's 102-yard kick off return for a touchdown. It was part of a forgettable day for the special teams with Fangio labeling some of the penalties as "bull(bleep)."
The Broncos, however, are undefeated. It is as simple as that. Yes, their strength of schedule is silly easy. But they need not apologize for road victories after five years without a playoff berth. It was a win. And Teddy morphed from Steady to Greedy, leaving optimism brimming for Broncos Country starved for a contender.
"It's going to be great going home. We are excited as a team," tight end Noah Fant said. "We are excited to put on a show for the fans."
Chubb suffers setback
Pro Bowler Bradley Chubb's debut ended in frustration. After missing the opener with a left ankle injury, Chubb started. He moved well until he didn't, aggravating his ankle late in the second quarter. It wasn't clear how he hurt it. But he fell to his knees, smacking his hand to the turf. He walked slowly to the sideline as Teddy Bridgewater talked to him followed by Courtland Sutton.
Chubb slammed his helmet to the turf in frustration and was ruled out for the game.
Chubb and Von Miller have only played 20 games together since the former North Carolina State star was drafted in 2018.
Broncos linebacker Josey Jewell hurt his left shoulder on a punt return tackle in the second quarter. Justin Strnad replaced him. Before the injury, Jewell was starring with a tackle for loss and a terrific blitz that nearly resulted in an interception. ...
Von Miller has three sacks in the first two games. ...
In his first start, Pat Surtain II grabbed his first pick on an acrobatic catch with 10:31 remaining in the game. ...
Kendall Hinton caught first pass of his career, a 15-yarder with two minutes in the first half. The former Broncos emergency quarterback was rewarded with a promotion this week following Jerry Jeudy's injury.
When Tim Patrick scored, he paid homage to Jeudy with his wiggle dance celebration. ...
Dre'Mont Jones, critical of coach Urban Meyer last week, received a personal foul for late hit on Trevor Lawrence's leg in the fourth quarter. ...
Rookie Caden Sterns received run in the dime package with Pat Surtain II moving into the starting lineup. He had a chance for an interception late in the second quarter on a tipped pass.