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Sean Payton states the importance of Week 18 for Jarrett Stidham's future role with the Denver Broncos

Zac Stevens Avatar
January 1, 2024

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos’ quarterback drama is taking a one week pause.

After a whirlwind week of benching Russell Wilson, and all of the drama that followed, the final week of the season will be relatively calm, at least from the quarterback perspective.

On Monday, a day after Jarrett Stidham won his first NFL start in a 16-9 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, Sean Payton announced Stidham will remain the Broncos’ starting quarterback for the final game of the season.

Russell Wilson, as he was on Sunday, will remain the team’s backup quarterback.

“The depth at that position coming up will be the same with Jarrett as the starter and Russ as the two,” the head coach said.

Despite the team officially being eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday, the Broncos’ season finale against the Raiders in Las Vegas is anything but meaningless.

“Do we approach it differently? Absolutely not,” Payton stated, when asked if the team approaches the game different after being eliminated from the playoffs. “We do everything in our power to win this game. It’s that important. From who is playing quarterback to who is starting at the offensive line to who is starting on defense. It’s that simple.”

Multiple times, the head coach completely dismissed the idea that the team would approach the final game of the season differently with the team eliminated from postseason contention. After Sunday’s win, Payton stated the team will approach Week 18 as if it were Week 2.

The head coach sent a message to his team that Week 18 will be anything but meaningless.

That’s especially true for his new starting quarterback.

“The answer would be yes, I mean, I think these are important snaps and games for him,” Payton said, when asked if Stidham’s performance in the final two games of the season can impact how the team feels about him moving into next season. “I think that’s the case with every player, right? We’re constantly evaluating how they play and then, it would definitely carry over to how we feel about next year relative to their role.”

In Stidham’s first start on Sunday, he went 20-of-32 for 224 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a passer rating of 93.8.

“There’s a confidence about him. He played with that kind of poise. You felt that on the field,” Payton said, reflecting on Stidham’s first start in Denver. “You didn’t feel like you were working with somebody who was a younger player. You felt like you were working with somebody that had experience and was very confident.”

While the team’s 16 points was the second fewest they’ve score all year, Payton saw encouraging signs from Stidham, while also areas he and the offense can grow.

“No. 1, our job is to score. We had opportunities in the tight red yesterday that certainly down on the one-yard line — that’s the first thing. I think Jarrett did a good job, after seeing the tape, with his decisions, ball security, all those things that you want to see from that position,” Payton said. “The big play to [Lil’Jordan Humphrey], it was a heckuva play by L.J., the protection was good. A lot of positives to build off of.”

Ironically, in the Broncos’ other game against the Chargers this year, Wilson had nearly an identical stat line to the one Stidham had on Sunday. In the Week 14 game in Los Angeles, Wilson went 21-of-33 for 224 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 91.

When making the quarterback change, Payton pointed to the offense needing to improve and needing a “spark.” With the offense operating under Stidham for the first time on Sunday, Payton saw improvements.

“The comments last week were a sum total of what 15 games, and yet, there were some things I was really encouraged about yesterday,” Payton said. “Certainly, if we’re going to measure it week-by-week, you’d say, ‘Man, we scored under 20 points, that wasn’t enough. We missed out on opportunities in the red zone. But we were safe with the football. Certainly, we look forward to this next game.’ But, that was a stretch. That was a long stretch of 15 weeks where we’d seen a very similar pattern. I think that’ll change.

“I made the decision with the hopes that that’s going to help bring change,” Payton continued. “There’s no guarantee that that does, but in the meantime, it’s something that I felt was necessary.”

If it doesn’t change, and Payton doesn’t see enough on Sunday against the Raiders, then there will be change once again with the Broncos’ starting quarterback. The difference, however, is Payton will have an entire offseason to make that change heading into the 2024 season.

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