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Russell Wilson’s improved play is the silver lining to the Broncos’ latest loss to the Raiders

DENVER (AP) — Despite coach Sean Payton’s dud of a Denver debut, the Broncos’ season opener showed his restoration of quarterback Russell Wilson is going well.

Now, if Wilson can get Jerry Jeudy and Greg Dulcich back on the field, he might be able to throw for more than the 177 yards he did Sunday in Denver’s 17-16 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.

Jeudy was inactive after being limited in practice upon his return from a pulled right hamstring late in camp and Dulcich left after apparently pulling a hamstring on the opening drive of the second half. He missed seven games as a rookie last year because of chronic hamstring issues.

Wilson managed just 52 yards in the air after halftime.

“Obviously if you have Dulcich in and Jerry, I mean they’re …” Wilson said before stopping himself. “I still think we should have won that game.”

His last drive was Denver’s only three-and-out, however, and the defense couldn’t get the ball back to Wilson as Jimmy Garoppolo and the Raiders ate up the final 5:08 for Josh McDaniels’ third win in three tries against the team that once fired him.

Still, Wilson looked like his old Seattle self. His 108.0 passer rating was better than all but one game last season, and that came under interim head coach Jerry Rosburg, who took over after Nathaniel Hackett was fired with a 4-11 record.

Coincidentally, Hackett also lost his Denver debut 17-16 in an unhappy homecoming for Wilson in Seattle that sent both the coach and quarterback on a season-long spiral.

Wilson finished 27 of 34 with two touchdowns and two sacks Sunday.

That’s progress.

Last year, he averaged one TD, almost one INT and nearly four sacks per game.

The Broncos’ operation was efficient and so was their offense, averaging 2.7 points per drive. With the 10 to 12 possessions in a game that teams normally average, you’re looking at 27 to 32 points per game.

The problem was the Broncos only had six possessions. The Raiders also had six, not counting a kneel-down at the end of the first half, as Denver’s defense couldn’t get the Raiders off the field, either, and committed six penalties.

The gigantic new videoboard that ate up most of the $100 million in offseason upgrades at Empower Field at Mile High only magnified the many mistakes the Broncos committed in their seventh straight loss to the Raiders.

Wilson provided a glimmer of hope that this season won’t be like the last seven that have ended without a playoff berth.

He cut down on sweets — losing 15 pounds — and his constant social media presence in the offseason, and that renewed focus on football started to pay dividends in Week 1.

“We’re very excited about who we are and who we’re going to be,” Wilson said. “The biggest thing is continuing to push. We’ve got another opportunity next week. We’ve got to come back ready to swing and go get a win.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The offensive operation. The fans didn’t have to count down the play clock like they did last year in Hackett’s home debut when he couldn’t get the plays in on time and general manager George Paton had to hire Rosburg to help him with that.

WHAT NEEDS WORK

The pass rush never arrived.

STOCK UP

Javonte Williams rushed for 52 yards on 13 carries and caught four passes in his first game since a serious knee injury a month into the 2022 season.

“As the game went on my knee felt even stronger,” Williams said.

STOCK DOWN

Kicker Wil Lutz missed his first extra point and his first field-goal try on the same day predecessor Brandon McManus was 5-for-5 for Jacksonville.

INJURIES

Payton offered no updates Monday on Dulcich or safety Caden Sterns, who was carted off with what’s believed to be a season-ending knee injury.

KEY NUMBERS

How evenly matched were the Raiders and Broncos? Consider: Both teams had 22 first downs and both were 5 for 11 on third down. The Raiders outgained the Broncos 261 yards to 260 and each team committed 10 penalties.

NEXT STEPS

The Broncos host Washington (1-0) on Sunday.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

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