Russell Wilson showed improvement, but can Broncos capitalize?

DENVER — Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos didn’t just want to get better after an offseason transformation — they wanted to start cranking out more wins.

But they posted just 16 points in Sunday’s season-opening loss to the Las Vegas Raiders, losing by one score (17-16), and Wilson was once again in search of the elusive “one more play.’’ It was Denver’s seventh consecutive loss to Las Vegas.

“Felt like we had opportunities,’’ Wilson said after the two teams combined for just 13 possessions overall. “ … We definitely played the type of football we want to play, we just have to make one more play.’’

Wilson did show improved efficiency and timeliness with his throws in his regular-season debut under coach Sean Payton’s offense. He was 17-of-19 passing before halftime for 125 yards and two touchdowns. He managed to work the short and intermediate routes effectively, but he was sacked multiple times for the 16th consecutive game — the longest active streak in the NFL.

He completed passes to eight different players in the first half, and his two touchdown passes before halftime meant he had already done something in the opener he did in only three games last season. A noticeable change was in Wilson’s movement outside of the pocket where he was 8-of-11 for 79 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Both touchdown throws came when he was outside of the pocket and under duress. That 73% completion rate was his best in any game since Week 13 in 2020.

“We started off hot, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to get the job done,’’ said wide receiver Courtland Sutton. “At the end of the day, the moral victories, I’m kind of just pushing those to the side. It’s more of just getting the job done, and we weren’t able to get that done.”

With wide receiver Jerry Jeudy out due to a hamstring injury and Tim Patrick having been lost for the season early in training camp, they had two receivers in the game, Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Phillip Dorsett, who were elevated from the practice squad Saturday.

Wilson had his worst season as a pro in 2022 — a career-low 16 touchdown passes and a career-most 55 sacks — as the Broncos finished the season as the league’s lowest-scoring offense at 16.9 points per game. Along the way, the Broncos had seemingly mastered the art of the oh-so-close loss, with 11 games when they scored 16 or fewer points and seven of those ending in losses.

An improved Wilson may be a good place to start in Week 1, but there is still a long road ahead for this offense.

“Best thing we can do is make one more play,’’ Wilson said. “ … We’re excited about who we are and [the] biggest thing is to continue to push.’’

Payton has worked to tailor the offense more to Wilson’s strengths while also trying to channel the top-5 offense Payton ran with the New Orleans Saints. In Sunday’s first half, Wilson was decisive, quick with the ball and the Broncos scored touchdowns on two of their three possessions in the first half.

But tight end Greg Dulcich, one of the players Payton had expressed optimism about the potential matchup problems for defenses, left the game with a leg injury early in the second half. And without Jeudy or Dulcich, the Broncos’ three possessions in the second half resulted in a missed 55-yard field goal by Wil Lutz, a 24-yard field goal by Lutz and the Broncos’ only three-and-out of the day in their last possession of the game.

“Overall, our tempo was decent, I think it can be better,’’ Payton said. “We were a little sporadic in the second half. When Greg goes out, that kind of changes some personnel groupings. I wasn’t as pleased with it in the second half.’’

And in the end, Wilson was left with a familiar outcome.

“Greg is definitely a threat,’’ Wilson said. “ … He’s such a playmaker, there’s so much he can do … But I still think we should have won that game.’’

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