ENGLEWOOD -- Teddy Bridgewater boasts a slow heart beat. When fire alarms are blaring, he walks through the smoke with purpose and patience.
His calm -- learned through his mother's fight with breast cancer -- served him well in his home debut as the Broncos' starting quarterback in a 17-12 win.
“It’s definitely good to work through adversity. What am I going to do when things go bad? Pout on the sidelines? No," Bridgewater said. "It’s about the team and that’s contagious. The one thing I can control is how hard I work everyday and the leader I am."
Through the first two drives, it was fair to wonder if the Broncos coaching staff kept a receipt on their decision. He completed one pass, misfired on several, and fizzled on a three-and-out, admitting he was trying to force the ball to Courtland Sutton and Albert Okwuegbunam.
But mdiway through the second quarter, Teddy got his groove back. It started with a staple. He surveyed the defense, went through his progressions and fired a strike to tight end Eric Saubert for a 20-yard gain. What happened next sprinkled hope that this team will snap its eight-game September losing skid.
Bridgewater connected with Courtland Sutton for a 19-yard gain, which included a crisp route from the former Pro Bowler playing in his first game in 11 months after ACL surgery on his left knee.
Moments later on first-and-goal from the 8-yard line, Bridgewater evaded pressure, slipped to his left and fired a low fastball to a sliding Sutton for a score. Sutton eased concerns about his availability for the opener and Bridgewater ironed out the wrinkles on a performance that began poorly. The touchdown drive was the defining moment Saturday in an undefeated preseason.
"They love football here in Denver," Fangio said. "They love the Broncos and now it's time for us to give them a team they will be proud of."
After a turbulent week in Broncos Country, the idea was simple.
Bridgewater starts and stages a drive so clean you could eat your dinner off it. Then, he walks off the field into the embrace of the hometown fans. That script found the shredder. Bridgewater failed to complete a pass on his first drive. Three sailed and one was dropped. The 0-for-4 was striking since the veteran entered the game 16-for-19.
There was no outward venom spewed at Bridgewater, whose selection as the No. 1 QB was not warmly received. Melvin Gordon spared Denver embarrassment with his burst. He collected all 26 yards on a drive Brandon McManus capped with a 54-yard field goal. A three-and-out followed, leaving Bridgewater 1-for-6 for four yards.
But Bridgewater rallied, his scoring drive punctuating a strong preseason that will make him the Broncos fifth different starter in the last five years on opening day. He finished 22-for-30, 241 yards, three TDs and 34 team points in the preseason.
"It was promising for sure," Sutton said of his return. "It was amazing to be back out there."
Drew Lock, too, regained his footing after a clumsy start in the second quarter. He went three-and-out on his first series, then suffered a strip sack on his second, coughing up the ball inside the 20 as right tackle Cam Fleming missed his block. Lock held onto the ball too long. But in a sign of maturity he has shown this summer, Lock rebounded. He went 4-for-4 on a scoring drive, connecting with tight end Austin Fort for a 7-yard touchdown.
Lock completed 5 of 7 passes for 67 yards. His final preseason numbers: 19-for-28, 298 yards, three TDs and 30 team points. He also fumbled three times, losing one.
"Nothing has changed with those guys, Teddy and Drew. They come to work with their hard hat on," Gordon said. "And Teddy is the same. He's a natural leader."
As for the defense, the top group received significant snaps. After a terrific first series for the Broncos starting defense -- I would have placed Von Miller in bubble wrap and shipped him to Newark, N.J., for the opener -- they suffered their first hiccup. Bryce Perkins and The Backups marched 11 yards as the Virginia quarterback created fits. He finished the first quarter 6-for-8 for 46 yards passing and 19 rushing against the Broncos starting defense. Miller registered a tackle and good pressure on two passing plays.
"I definitely paused and took it all in," Miller said, then adding of his performance. "I feel like the Von never left."
But it was not the smothering expected as the Broncos allowed a pair of 11 play field goal drives, featuring two missed tackles and a roughing penalty by Alexander Johnson, as Denver trailed for the first time in the preseason.
In the end, boxes were checked. The starters got reps, needed for a team that must start fast against the Giants, Jaguars and Jets. And they left healthy with much-needed momentum for Teddy.
"I am not in this to be a salesman. I am not in this to be liked. I love football," Bridgewater said. "I try to be even going to games. It was good to get in front of the fans. It sucks we started off slowly. But to see the fans to support us, it's exciting to be part of something like this."
Von Miller, Courtland Sutton and Albert Okwuegbunam, all players making their preseason debuts, served as captains. ...
Safety P.J. Locke again played well, making a strong case for a roster spot. As did receiver Trinity Benson.