On the Jaguars’ opening possession Sunday, Trevor Lawrence carved up the Broncos on a scripted 11-play, 83-yard touchdown drive.
But for the rest of the afternoon at TIAA Bank Field, the Broncos did what they were supposed to against a rookie quarterback: Dominate.
Denver’s defense cinched down after that opening TD, allowing just 106 more yards the rest of the rainy afternoon. No more points were scored by the Jacksonville offense, and Lawrence was picked off twice in the second half of the Broncos’ 23-13 victory.
Linebacker Von Miller, who had two tackles and a sack, said the defense was never rattled.
“After that first drive, we settled down and were able to play well,” Miller said. “Those guys (believe they) are a great team too, they’re full of talent and they’re going to make plays. We’ve just got to respond, and push through adversity, and that’s what we did.”
The Jaguars had four third-down conversions on their first drive. Kyle Fuller was at fault on two of those, one by a questionable illegal contact call and the other on Marvin Jones Jr.’s 25-yard touchdown catch. But Denver held Jacksonville to 3 of 10 on third-down from that point on, and a pair of those came by penalty (pass interference on Pat Surtain II in the second quarter and roughing the passer by Dre’Mont Jones in the fourth).
“(Our key was) to get off on third down,” safety Kareem Jackson said. “(They converted one) on third-and-short on the first drive. Another third down, they hit the tight end on the seven route. (We knew we had to) just communicate, get off on third down. We felt like on the first drive we didn’t execute. Moving forward, I think we did a better job executing and everybody just communicating.”
Denver forced a punt on the Jaguars’ second possession, and even though Jacksonville got into field goal range on two of its next three drives, the Broncos bent but didn’t break.
On the first of those second-quarter drives that resulted in a Josh Lambo missed field goal, the Jaguars capitalized on a 36-yard pass interference call on Surtain. The rookie didn’t turn to face the ball on an underthrown go-route to DJ Chark. But as Lawrence kept targeting Surtain throughout the game, the fortunes turned in favor of the Broncos’ corner.
That trend came to a head early in the fourth quarter, when another deep ball thrown toward Surtain ended up in his hands. Coach Vic Fangio called it “a hell of a pick.” It was Denver’s second interception of the half, after Jackson recorded career pick No. 20 by undercutting one of Lawrence’s throws two possessions prior.
“Not many deep corners can make that play (that Surtain made),” Fangio said. “At best, most of them get a break-up. But he got the break-up and the pick, so that speaks volumes about his ability. He had the P.I. (in the first half), but overall he played well.”
Surtain, who also had four tackles in his first NFL start, said being picked on by Lawrence wasn’t a surprise.
“Going into my first start, I expected that going into the game that they were going to try me early,” Surtain said. “I just had to make up for it (with the interception).”
Denver’s defensive depth was also key in its strong performance. With injuries to Josey Jewell (shoulder) and Bradley Chubb (ankle) knocking both starting linebackers out in the first half, Justin Strnad and Malik Reed were efficient fill-ins at inside and outside backer, respectively.
“(Strnad’s) done an incredible job working back from (a 2020 season-ending) injury as well, and for him to get some playing time and game reps was good today,” Miller said.
Miller lamented the exit of Chubb, who made his 2021 debut after missing Week 1 with an ankle injury. Fangio said he’s “pretty sure” Chubb re-injured the same ankle that’s been bothering him since the week before the preseason finale.
“To see him get to a point where he’s comfortable enough to play, and then he gets hurt, man, it’s tough,” Miller said. “We’re going to have to go back to the drawing board and see what we can do to get him healthy.”