ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Sometimes in sports, it is easier to appreciate a player than explain him.
When Denver acquired Teddy Bridgewater last spring, there was a collective shrug from Broncos Country. It was difficult to have an open mind for a veteran journeyman after the failed experiments with Case Keenum and Joe Flacco.
But three weeks into the season, Bridgewater remains the right man for the right team at the right time.
He won the starting job with his play in preseason and won over the locker room with his unflappable demeanor. Nothing flusters Bridgewater. He is as calm as a lagoon and as efficient as a metronome. He ranks second in completion percentage (76.8), fifth in quarterback rating (116.4) and has yet to turn the ball over.
When Bridgewater has started for good teams -- Minnesota and New Orleans -- he has performed well. Still, he's never put up these gaudy numbers. The same could be said for the Broncos offense, finally connected to a wireless connection after five years of running on dial-up. The Broncos sit in the top 12 in passing and rushing yards and points per game.
And yet, nationally they are getting little respect. There is a "Yeah, but" to their 3-0 start because their opponents remain winless. That leaves the Ravens as a measuring stick game on Sunday.
"We are definitely anxious to get out there. There’s always going to be a 'but' with everything you do in life. At the same time, we could be sitting here 0-3 and our opponents could be 3-6," Bridgewater said to my question about the critics. "I look at it as you respect the game. On any given Sunday, any team can be beat. We don’t get caught up in who we are playing. It’s about getting this team moving in the right direction. We get a chance against the Ravens, a team that has been winning. It will be a true test for sure."
Every team that started 4-0 the past two seasons advanced to the playoffs. With a victory Sunday, the Broncos could go 6-7 over the remainder of their schedule and still be knee-deep in the postseason mix. It's why this game takes on added significance. The Ravens are good, but this game is at home -- Denver is a 1-point favorite -- where the Broncos aim to regain dominance after throttling the Jets last Sunday.
It all starts, stops and stuttersteps with Lamar Jackson. The former MVP leads the Ravens in rushing with 251 yards on 35 carries. He is only completing 60.9% of his passes, but his 14.4 yards per catch leads the NFL. He can mesmerize defenders with runs -- Hall of Famer Steve Atwater explained to me the importance of holding the edge and line with Jackson to allow the sideline to become your friend. And Jackson will hit targets over the top through the air.
"He is one of a kind. Thank god," Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. "This guy is so special. The thing that gets lost because he's so spectacular running the ball is that this guy can really throw it. He's a complete quarterback."
Brigdewater pulls for Jackson to win, save for this week. Both are from South Florida, starred at the University of Louisville and "have strong mothers."
"We have so much in common," Bridgewater said. "I am happy for all the success he's had in his career."
Broncos safeties Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson will play critical roles in slowing Jackson. They must make quick reads with Jackson, protecting against the long pass, while tackling him in space.
"It's going to be a really good challenge for us. All the goals and aspirations we have as a defense that we verbalize, it's going to play itself out on Sunday," said Simmons, whose Broncos rank second in yards (221.7) and first in points (8.7) allowed per game.
"I like our secondary a lot. It's why I have been so outspoken about our goals, about being the No. 1 defense. We are not hiding from that. If want to do that, you have to get takeaways, you have to be able cover, you have to rush the passer, and I think we can do all those things."
The Broncos have been clobbered by injuries the first three weeks, but remain hopeful that starting guards Dalton Risner (foot) and Graham Glasgow (knee) will play Sunday. Neither practiced on Wednesday. Risner, according to sources, is slightly ahead of Glasgow in his recovery. Risner wore a boot after Sunday's game and is determined to play. Risner has made 35 consecutive starts to begin his career, battling through ankle and shoulder injuries his first two seasons.
Quinn Meinerz, Risner's backup, could use more seasoning. He has NFL strength, but did not play last season as his Division III school opted out of the season.
Since joining the Broncos, Glasgow has missed four of 19 games because of COVID-19 last season and an irregular heartbeat two weeks ago. If he can't go, Netane Muti has some experience with two starts over the past two seasons.
Fangio did not rule out new receiver David Moore, who is wearing No. 89, from contributing on Sunday. He's a veteran, so he if can pick up the offense, it makes sense to give him some opportunities in the slot following K.J. Hamler's season-ending injury. Diontae Spencer is first in line for the job.
The Broncos promoted Brett Rypien to the 53-man roster as another AFC team was prepared to sign him off the practice squad. This is not necessarily viewed as a long-term promotion. His roster spot might be needed if more injuries strike. Rypien would have to clear waivers to return to the practice squad.
Running back Mike Boone (quad) began practicing Wednesday and could have a role on special teams Sunday. Cornerback Ronald Darby (hamstring) is progressing well, leaving hope he will play next Sunday at the Steelers when he's eligible to return.
The Broncos will look to exploit the Ravens' struggling pass defense. Denver has excelled at play action, especially in early downs. However, Baltimore's statistics -- 314.7 yards permitted per game, ranking 30th overall -- has been inflated with helium by some good teams. "The Raiders and Chiefs throw the ball well against everyone," Fangio cautioned.
The Ravens activated highly touted rookie receiver Rashod Bateman off the injured list.