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Why nobody had a better day than George Paton on Saturday

Zac Stevens Avatar
August 15, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS — Hours before the Broncos kicked off their 2021 campaign, Justin Fields balled out.

The quarterback George Paton passed on in the 2021 draft put on a show in his first NFL action. His 142 passing yards, two total touchdowns and 106.7 passer rating in Chicago’s first preseason game injected lemon juice into the open wounds of everyone in the country who thought Paton should have drafted the talented quarterback out of Ohio State in the first round this year instead of a cornerback.

The Monday morning quarterbacks were out. The sharks were swirling.

And the Broncos hadn’t even played a single snap of football.

But once the Broncos did step on the field in Minnesota for their first action in 2021, George Paton’s day became a whole lot better. Thanks to his own actions.

Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater, the quarterbacks Paton passed on Fields for, balled out too. Denver’s signal callers, who are battling it out for the starting job, combined for 225 passing yards, 80 percent completion, three passing touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating over 150.

“I’m thrilled that both of them played good,” Vic Fangio said after the 33-6 beatdown over the Vikings. “I want it to be a hard decision, not an easy one.”

Justin Fields had a nice game, no doubt. Lock and Bridgewater matched it, if not outperformed it.

And that cornerback Paton selected over the quarterback, well, he had himself a mighty fine debut.

After playing like a true shutdown corner through the first 10 minutes of the game, Patrick Surtain II began baiting Vikings’ quarterback Jake Browning to throw his way.

Browning took the bait and Surtain hooked him.

On 3rd-and-5 from Denver’s 15, Surtain gave Ihmir Smith-Marsette a few feet of separation. Browning thought he was open. But by the time the ball was close to Smith-Marsette, the receiver had no room to breathe as Surtain had closed on the route and broke the pass up.

On the next drive, Browning tried to test Surtain again. Poor decision.

With his eyes in the backfield from the snap, Surtain read the play the entire way, jumped the snap, picked the ball and trotted 30 yards into the end zone for his first of many touchdowns in the NFL.

Despite racking up a pass breakup, an interception and a touchdown, the ninth-overall pick didn’t exceed Fangio’s expectations in his incredible debut.

“He played well, obviously,” the head coach said about the team’s first-round pick. “I expect a lot out of him. We only played him at corner today. We didn’t play him inside at all. I wanted him to just play one position today, get back to that. And they didn’t play their starting quarterback. That was one big advantage for us. We played our two starting quarterbacks. They didn’t. But still you’ve got to go out there make the plays, and he did it.”

On the opposite side of the ball, Paton’s second-round pick made the general manager like an even smarter man.

With Melvin Gordon sidelined due to a groin injury that isn’t believed to be serious, Javonte Williams set up Denver’s offense for success from the jump.

Pat Shurmur trusted the rookie with the first two offensive plays on the day. Williams delivered.

Two runs. Two first downs.

Fangio admitted after the game he was anxious to see the rookie pound the rock in live action.

“You can look at running backs all you want in practice and they can do good and get better. But ultimately the number one job of a running back is to be able to make people miss or break tackles,” Fangio explained. “And he was able to do that. And you could only find that in a game. So I was really anxious to see him, and obviously he didn’t disappoint.”

Not only did the rookie back pick up 24 total yards on Denver’s first two offensive plays, he helped set up Drew Lock and the Broncos’ passing attack for success.

“I think because of the way our offensive line and our running backs establish the run early in these games and even last year in a little bit of these games when we were really pounding the rock, it just opens that whole passing scheme up for us all the play-action shots,” Lock said after the game when asked about his comfortability in play-action. “So hats off to the O-line and running backs for letting that happen for us.”

Outside of a screen, Lock’s next two completions were to the tune of 105 yards and a touchdown. Both were off play action.

George Paton’s quarterback room shined. His first-round pick was magnificent. And his second-round pick—that had drawn criticism for the value of the pick—was tremendous.

After a questionable start, Denver’s general manager had himself a mighty fine day.

John Elway even had a nice day too.

Much like how Paton’s first two picks shined, so did Elway’s first and second-round pick from just a year ago.

On 3rd-and-4 from Denver’s own 45-yard line, Jerry Jeudy caught a routine nine-yard pass in the middle of the field from Lock then took off for an additional 24 yards.

While Jeudy has unquestionably been the star receiver of training camp, K.J. Hamler, Elway’s 2020 second-round pick, stole the show on Saturday.

“He had good practices here against Minnesota. He had good practices prior to that,” Fangio said of the speedy receiver.

During the the joint practices with the Vikings earlier in the week, Hamler blew past the defense for a 50-yard touchdown.

“It was just a deep post, and I ran fast and ran past the defense,” Hamler said on Thursday, describing his touchdown during practice.

He topped that during the game. Instead of running by the defense for a 50-yard touchdown, Hamler sped by the Vikings for an 80-yard touchdown.

“I showed the entire team a play or two from practice where he ran some great routes that were really hard to cover for anybody,” Fangio said about Hamler. “And it’s validated here today with the touchdown. He’s a fast, quick guy that’s hard to cover. And hopefully we can keep him healthy and he can be a big part of our offense.”

Much like the Broncos, Denver’s current and former general manager started off the preseason with a dub.

Rightfully so, George Paton’s day ended with a fresh new shirt. Fangio awarded the Broncos’ new general manager a “game T-shirt” in front of the entire team after Denver destroyed Paton’s former team.

George Paton got his first win as general manager, although it was a preseason game. He beatdown his former team. And his quarterbacks, first-round pick and second-round pick shined. Not too shabby of a start for the Broncos’ general manager.


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