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Russell Wilson’s three TDs lead Broncos to 31-28 win vs. Bears

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CHICAGO — The grand opening for Sean Payton’s Denver rendition of “Club Dub” suffered delays and setbacks over the past three weeks.

It was supposed to debut to rave reviews in early September, but the drywall wasn’t up yet.

Then Washington came to town for the premiere and the sound system shorted out.

By the time the Broncos flew home from South Florida, you might have thought the whole thing burned to the ground.

But finally, the celebration arrived as the calendar flipped to October. In Payton’s hometown, no less. Delayed but not muted.

It shouldn’t have been this difficult, really, to find reason to crank the locker room music on an autumn Sunday. But finally Denver did after a wild, 31-28 victory over the heat-seeking-turned-hapless Bears.

“I’ve been lucky enough, the last five times I’ve been here, we’ve won,” said Payton, who mostly grew up just southwest of here in Naperville, referring back to his days as New Orleans’ head coach. “We’ve been in that locker room, talking and listening to music. It’s nice when you come home, even after so many years, to win here. Hopefully it’s the first of many relative to where we’re going.

“We just have a lot of work to do still, but these guys can enjoy it.”

They can enjoy it for the first time this season.

For the first time with Payton as their head coach.

For the first time in a true road game since a Nov. 7, 2021 win at Dallas.

Denver Broncos running back Jaleel McLaughlin (38) scored a touchdown against the Chicago Bears in the first quarter at Soldier Field Oct. 01, 2023. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

“A win is a win,” Denver defensive lineman D.J. Jones said. “You never take a win for granted. It means a lot getting our first win of the season. … It was controlled anger. People were angry, but it was controlled. It was like, ‘we’ve got to do better.’ Everybody knew we had to do better. And we did.”

Not only did they have to do better after a 70-20 debacle last week at Miami, but also after a disastrous start to Sunday which put the Broncos behind 28-7 with 19 minutes, 11 seconds remaining at Solider Field.

The 24-point run that ensued — two Russell Wilson touchdown passes, a Jonathon Cooper fumble return for a score amid four straight defensive stops and a go-ahead 51-yard field goal from kicker Wil Lutz — staved off the franchise’s first 0-4 start since 2019.

Whether it ends up meaning more than getting to 1-3 instead of 0-4 remains to be seen.

“This is a huge win because this is something that can be a really big turning point for us moving forward,” wide receiver Courtland Sutton said. “This game is a perfect description of how our season’s been so far. We came out throwing punches, but we got down early. We came back in the second half and guys fought. Guys had that ability to show that there’s no give-up, there’s no quit in our team. It was amazing to watch that.”

That any risk of quit or give-up existed as the calendar turned to October speaks to how rough the Broncos’ opening stanza has been. A one-point loss at home to Las Vegas. A blown 21-3 lead at home to the Commanders. An historic blowout at the hands of the Dolphins.

Might a loss Sunday have sent 2023 into a death spiral? Now that question is merely a hypothetical.

Might it lead to an actual turnaround? It’s a considerable leap from here to there, given the Bears might be the worst team in the NFL and for much of Sunday afternoon they dominated.

Corrections and clean-up are two of every team’s favorite post-game “c” words regardless of outcome, but several players admitted Sunday they go smoother following a “W.”

Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, left, and head coach Sean Payton on the sidelines in the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field October 01, 2023. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)
Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, left, and head coach Sean Payton on the sidelines in the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field October 01, 2023. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

“Obviously the film is going to be the film and you’ve got to get your corrections, but when you’re looking at yourself mess up and all that, it’s a little easier when you’ve got a win in the column,” right guard Quinn Meinerz said.

Cooper’s scoop-and-score tied the game and fully swung its momentum to the Broncos’ sideline, but they don’t win Sunday without a vintage performance from quarterback Russell Wilson. He finished 21-of-28 for 223 yards and three touchdowns, played turnover free and took just one sack.

He hit back-to-back third-down conversions to Lil’Jordan Humphrey for 11 yards and Sutton for a touchdown to bring Denver within seven. Then he threw a strike up the right side to rookie Marvin Mims, Jr., for 48 yards to set up Lutz’s go-ahead field goal. That came one play after Alex Singleton and the Broncos’ defense snuffed out a fourth-and-1 try from the Bears that would have put them in position to win.

Through four games, Wilson is averaging 242 passing yards, completing 67.4% of his passes and has nine touchdowns vs. three turnovers.

After a dart to Sutton brought Denver within 28-14, the 12th-year quarterback unleashed a series of fist-pumps.

“His competitive nature is something that a lot of people don’t talk about or give him enough credit for because of how polished he tries to be and the person he tries to be as a leader,” right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “I’ve been on the other side of those comebacks numerous times. Proud to be his teammate, thankful to be his teammate because that win is just as much about him as it is about anybody else. He put the team on his back in the second half and led us to victory.”

Wilson on the sideline told teammates, “They know we’re coming back. They know we’re coming back.”

The question now is if “Club Dub” is going on tour or if this was a one-Sunday-only type of performance against a team that’s now lost 14 straight games dating to early 2022.

“There will be some tough tape tomorrow and I don’t want to sugar-coat anything,” Payton said after his 153rd regular-season win but first in blue and orange. “We’re going to play a lot better teams on our schedule, and no disrespect to (Bears coach Matt Eberflus) and what they’re trying to do. I’m sure the feeling is the same here.

“But I think the win was important for the group.”

Second wind in the Windy City

Only six times in franchise history have the Broncos rallied from a deficit of 20 points or more, and two have come in the last four seasons. Here’s a look at all six, and where Sunday’s comeback from 21 points down ranks among them:

Date Opponent Score at time of deficit Final
Oct. 15, 2012 at San Diego 24-0, 0:24 left in third quarter 35-24
Sept. 23, 1979 vs. Seattle 34-10, 9:25 left in third quarter 37-34
Oct. 23, 1960 vs. Boston 24-0, 11:59 left in third quarter 31-24
Sunday at Chicago 28-7, 4:18 left in third quarter 31-28
Nov. 1, 2020 vs. L.A. Chargers 24-3, 7:38 left in third quarter 31-30
Dec. 12, 1982 at L.A. Rams 21-0, 10:24 left in second quarter 27-24

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