DENVER — Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson closed out what he called a “really humbling year” Sunday with one of his best efforts of a lost season and a promise to fix what went wrong.
Wilson said his 2023 season will start “[Monday] morning.”
The Broncos finished 5-12 — 2010 was the franchise’s only other 12-loss season — with a 31-28 victory over the playoff-bound Los Angeles Chargers in Empower Field at Mile High. The Chargers, with their playoff seeding already assured, still played most of their starters through the third quarter.
Wilson finished 13-of-24 passing for 283 yards to go with three touchdowns and an interception. It was his second game with three touchdown passes in the last four weeks and with three total touchdowns (two rushing, one passing) in last week’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Wilson had six total touchdowns in the last two games of the season, or the same number of touchdowns he had in the first six games of the season combined.
The late surge did not prevent him from finishing with a career-low 16 touchdown passes this season, but he believes the last two games did offer some optimism that what follows in his career with the Broncos will be far better than his first year with the team.
“You’re trying to find that magic,” Wilson said. “ … I know that I feel like I fell short of my own standards and my own level of expectations … I just want to recapture that.”
Wilson arrived with Super Bowl expectations in tow via a blockbuster trade last March, signed a five-year, $245 million contract extension in September. But he stumbled out of the gate as the Broncos struggled with game management issues on the coaching side in the season’s early week and the team spent much of the year as the league’s lowest-scoring offense.
Nathaniel Hackett was fired Dec. 26, just 15 games into his first year on the job, and questions about whether Wilson could be repaired moving forward have swirled for much of the season. When Wilson was asked Sunday about how he often did not look like a nine-time Pro Bowler, Wilson responded:
“I asked myself that same question, where’s he at?”
Over the last two games interim coach Jerry Rosburg moved offensive coordinator Justin Outten into the play-calling role and put quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak on the sideline with Wilson. Rosburg also wanted the offense to muscle up with bigger personnel grouping more of the time as the Broncos were far more inclined to run the ball to set up play action.
The result Sunday was the Broncos rushing for 205 yards, their most in a game since 2018 and Wilson tossing five completions of at least 25 yards and three completions of at least 50 yards. Wide receiver Jerry Jeudy finished with two of those 50-yard plays on the way to 154 yards on five catches.
Against the Chiefs last week, Wilson threw for 222 yards and a touchdown as well as rushing for two more touchdowns. Rosburg said it could be a new template moving forward for Wilson and the team’s offense.
“That whole (fixing) narrative … What you saw out there is Russell Wilson is Russell Wilson, he’s a Hall of Fame, NFL quarterback,” Rosburg said. “Everything has to fit together for the quarterback to play winning football.”
“I’ve seen the same Russ that didn’t give up even though we didn’t have the season we wanted,” Jeudy said. “ … He just never gave up, never put his head down … just kept grinding, kept playing.”
Wilson promised to begin his evaluation of his own play in the days ahead and that he hoped to gather the team’s wide receivers together in the coming months to avoid another season like this one.
“You tie up your cleats to be your best and this year was not that,” Wilson said. “… And my motivation is winning.”