In the Broncos’ preseason finale on Saturday at Empower Field, fans got a few glimpses of players who will be expected to the contribute to the team’s return to relevancy in 2022.
Wideout KJ Hamler returned from season-ending knee/hip injuries in Week 3 last year, looking game-ready. Rookie Montrell Washington showed his offensive value with a touchdown on a reverse. And Baron Browning, converted from inside to outside linebacker this offseason, had a scoop-and-score.
The end result was a 23-13 win for the Broncos, closing out a 2-1 preseason mark following last week’s beatdown in Buffalo. Denver opens the regular season on Monday Night Football Sept. 12 in Seattle.
The Broncos looked good on their opening drive, but it ended with a red zone interception on Brett Rypien’s deflected pass that was intended for Hamler. The pass was thrown slightly behind Hamler and ended up in the hands of Minnesota linebacker Luiji Vilain.
Hamler played most of Denver’s first three drives. He had three catches for 18 yards on five targets, and also drew a personal foul penalty for a first down. He’s expected to be one of Denver’s three primary wideouts this year along with Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton.
The Broncos took a 3-0 lead on Brandon McManus’ 50-yard field goal on their second drive. Then, the defense appeared to make a goal-line stand against the Vikings, but replay review reversed Denver’s fourth-down stuff, and Minnesota went up 7-3 midway through the second quarter.
Denver re-took the lead the next possession, cashing in on Washington’s 11-yard touchdown run on a reverse to make it 10-7.
With the clock under a minute to go until half time, the Broncos defense came up with the play of the day. McTelvin Agim’s sack and forced fumble led to Browning’s touchdown, running it in from 19 yards out to make it 17-7. The play ended up being the game-winning score.
The Vikings struck back with Greg Joseph’s field goal at the halftime buzzer after several breakdowns in the Broncos secondary enabled Minnesota to drive 47 yards in 48 seconds.
With many third-stringers in for both teams in the second half, the game slowed to a slog.
Josh Johnson took over at quarterback for the Broncos, and neither team scored in a quiet third quarter that featured four punts. Joseph’s 58-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter made it 17-13, but the Denver defense held on from there.
Johnson finished 11-of-14 for 107 yards, compared to Rypien’s stat line of 14-of-21 for 137 yards and a pick.
McManus tacked on a pair of field goals late in the fourth quarter — one from 40 yards with 3:19 left and another from 31 yards with 0:19 to go — to close out the scoring.
Rookie linebacker Nick Bonitto made his presence felt toward the end of the game, with a forced fumble and a sack on the Vikings’ final drive. Agim also added on to his solid night with a pass deflection.
The Broncos now have a decision to make ahead of Tuesday’s 53-man roster deadline on who will be Russell Wilson’s backup. Johnson, 36, started the first two preseason games. If Denver goes with the veteran and cuts Rypien, there’s a chance that the 26-year-old will get claimed on waivers by another team.
In injury news, rookie receiver Brandon Johnson exited in the first quarter with an ankle injury, and rookie safety Delarrin Turner-Yell left in the fourth quarter and was evaluated for a concussion. Turner-Yell returned to record a sack on fourth-and-goal with 6:38 left, helping secure the win.