Advertisement

Russell Wilson's fade pattern with Broncos is one of NFL's big mysteries

Inglewood, CA, Monday, October 17, 2022 - Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) runs.
The Chargers' Chris Rumph II dives in an attempt to tackle Denver quarterback Russell Wilson as Khalil Mack also pursues. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The biggest move of the NFL offseason has morphed into the league’s biggest mystery.

It’s a threwdunnit. Where did you go, Russell Wilson?

This is not what the Denver Broncos were expecting when they mortgaged their future for Seattle’s nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback.

Turns out, Wilson is so elusive, even his own team can’t find him.

The Broncos came into Monday night’s game against the Chargers averaging just 15 points per game. The good news is they surpassed that by a point, losing in overtime, 19-16.

It was a huge division victory for the Chargers, who have won three in a row and are in a four-way tie for the AFC’s longest winning streak. The only time they led all night was on the final play, when Dustin Hopkins’ game-winning kick sailed through the uprights.

Every time there was a Hollywood moment, when the Broncos were backed up against the wall and the Wilson of old might have resurfaced, it just didn’t happen. A sack. A short-armed throw. Another missed opportunity.

“This is very disappointing,” Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said, speaking generally about the loss. “We need to have a lot more urgency across the board.”

The Chargers have done this before. They are 3-0 against Wilson, the first two matchups when he was playing for the Seahawks.

Wilson is unfailingly upbeat, that part hasn’t changed, so he sounded like a motivational speaker after the game.

The Chargers' Justin Herbert (10) flips a pass to Austin Ekeler (30) as he is tackled late in the game against the Broncos.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) flips a pass to Austin Ekeler (30) as he is tackled late in the game against the Broncos. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“It’s a good football team out there, but we’re just as good if not better, we feel like,” he said. “We’ve got to answer the call. Adversity is definitely challenging us right now. But the only way I know through it all is to continue to work hard and continue to believe.”

This one started with such promise for the Broncos. Wilson was 10 for 10 in the first quarter for 116 yards and a 39-yard touchdown to Greg Dulcich. It was the first career touchdown for the former UCLA tight end who played at St. Francis High in La Cañada Flintridge.

It looked like the Wilson we all know had resurfaced, especially how he set up that touchdown with a 37-yard completion to Jerry Jeudy.

Who could have guessed that in the three-plus quarters after that pristine start he’d complete five of 18 passes for 72 yards?

At his best, Wilson is like the Sundance Kid. He’s better when he moves. That was happening in the first quarter, when he was rolling to his left and right and making plays on the run. Throughout his career, he has turned extending plays into an art form. As longtime quarterback expert Rick Neuheisel puts it, asking Wilson to stay put is like asking Rembrandt to paint between the lines.

That’s what Hackett seemed to be doing with Wilson to this point, keeping him in the pocket to go through his progressions and make those anticipatory throws. It wasn’t working. He came into Monday’s game with four touchdown passes, the fewest through five games in his career.

Then came that opening quarter and the flashbacks to all the success Wilson had in Seattle, when his 113 wins through the first decade of his career set an NFL record.

Turns out, that quarter was just a tease, as the Chargers defense swarmed him, blanketed his receivers and smothered Denver’s offensive production.

“They started to pick up the pressure for sure in the second half,” Broncos running back Latavius Murray said. “We’ve got to find a way to sustain drives and figure it out.”

The Broncos had a 13-10 lead after two quarters but failed to pull away in the second half. Their possessions after halftime ended thusly: punt, punt, punt, field goal, punt, punt, punt.

Since he came into the league, Wilson has 34 career wins in the fourth quarter or overtime. That’s second during that span to Matthew Stafford’s 36. They are clutch quarterbacks.

So it was a made-for-TV moment with 21/2 minutes left in regulation, the score tied, and Wilson facing third and six from his 43. It was his moment to shine.

He took the shotgun snap… and was immediately sacked by linebacker Drue Tranquill blitzing up the middle. It was Tranquill’s second sack of the night — you might say Denver’s offense was tranquilized — and the fourth by the Chargers.

The Broncos dropped to 2-4 and have lost three in a row. More important, they have yet to find the quarterback they thought they knew.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.