INGLEWOOD, Calif. — With the hot breath of Blucifer on the back of his neck, Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes better not look back. The devil wears orange and blue, and he’s dangerously closer to the Chiefs than it might appear in their rearview mirror.
“We’re in a horse race,” quarterback Russell Wilson said Sunday, after the Broncos dismantled those Thunderdolts from Los Angeles. Denver routed the Chargers 24-7 in a game that was no contest after a devilish Denver defense broke the spirit and stole the soul of Los Angeles quarterback Justin Herbert with a goal-line stand early in the first quarter.
But enough of my silly football poetry. Let’s just stick to the facts, ma’am: Since the last Sunday in October, when they snapped a 16-game losing streak to Kansas City, the Broncos’ record is 6-1, while the dead Chiefs walking are 2-4.
Playoffs? Playoffs! Playoffs?
Yes, and a Wild Card berth is not the only prize the Broncos can aim for down the stretch of this NFL season. With four games remaining in the regular season, Denver finds itself only one game out of first place in the AFC West, a division the Chiefs have won seven years in a row.
By now you’ve memorized the M.O. of these Broncos. Play nasty defense, harass the quarterback, pound the rock and wait for one big play from quarterback Russell Wilson that, more times than not, seems to end with a no-freaking-way catch by Courtland Sutton.
“He’s like a big power forward,” said Broncos coach Sean Payton, admiring the way Sutton wins 50-50 balls as much with his muscle as his hops.
The big play that secured this W for Denver arrived with five minutes, 55 seconds remaining in the third quarter, when some jazzy improvisation between Wilson and Sutton resulted in a one-handed grab of a 46-yard touchdown pass that staked the Broncos to a 17-0 lead.
On a play that went delightfully off script when the Denver offensive line allowed Wilson more than six seconds to improvise before throwing the football, Sutton made touchdown magic by listening to a voice inside his head.
“Top down,” Sutton recalled. “Literally I heard (Wilson) in my head saying: ‘Top down.'”
Perception is the result of recognition. Exploit the space the defense has given.
The little confession by Sutton that Wilson was the little birdie in his ear delighted the veteran quarterback.
Sutton “did a great job, because he was going deep, came back for a second and then went deep again,” Wilson said.
That chemistry between a quarterback and receiver, in which no words needed to be spoken, was worth six points to the Broncos.
I mention this football ESP between Wilson and Sutton for a very specific reason. While nobody in the NFL mentions Wilson in the same breath as Mahomes when speaking of elite quarterbacks, anybody who has watched the championship reputation of the Chiefs slowly unravel can tell you this truth: The K.C. offense has been reduced to not much more than whatever magic can be conjured between Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce.
While Mahomes and Kelce have connected on 80 passes for 896 yards and five touchdowns in 2023, Denver’s QB-WR1 duo has exceeded that production in the most important category, with Sutton hauling in 53 catches for 799 yards and 10 touchdowns — the most scores by any Broncos receiver in a single season since the late, great Demaryius Thomas in 2014.
“I try to play with a certain attitude and demeanor and it came from the way (Thomas) played the game,” Sutton said.
In a city where a gallon of regular gas costs $5.19, Los Angeles has too many problems the other six days of the week to worry about the Chargers on Sunday. Broncos Country achieved such an overwhelming and nearly unopposed takeover of SoFi Stadium that Denver linebacker Alex Singleton felt confident exhorting the crowd for noise before the snap of a fourth-down play by backup Easton Stick, who replaced Herbert after the most overrated quarterback in the NFL departed with a finger injury.
With a 7-6 record, there’s every reason to believe the Broncos can end their long playoff drought, so long as they sweep the remaining AFC teams on their schedule (the reeling Chargers, wretched Patriots and reprehensible Raiders).
All the AFC rivals ahead of Denver in the wild-card race now feel the hot breath of Blucifer on their necks. The Broncos are taking names, checking boxes and kicking keisters. The long playoff drought is close enough to being over that everybody who loves this team can almost taste the champagne.
Win by win and week by week, Payton noted, “It’s one less question about one more demon we have answered.”