CHICAGO -- As Denver Broncos coach Sean Payton has tried to figure out how to best fit running back Jaleel McLaughlin and wide receiver Marvin Mims Jr. into the team’s offense, the two rookies are making a strong case for playing time.
In the Broncos’ 31-28 comeback victory over the Chicago Bears in Soldier Field Sunday, Mims’ 48-yard reception in the closing minutes put the Broncos in position for kicker Wil Lutz ’s 51-yard game-winner while McLaughlin led the team in rushing with 72 yards on seven carries with a receiving touchdown. It helped the Broncos to their first victory this season.
“(Mims’ catch) was a great play, a big play for us, obviously it helped us win the game,’’ Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson said. “ … And (McLaughlin) was spectacular.’’
Payton has taken more of a slow-and-steady approach with Mims and McLaughlin thus far, even as the team's offense lacked explosiveness at times in an 0-3 start. Mims was selected by the Broncos in the second round of April’s draft -- the team’s first pick since they didn’t have a first-rounder. McLaughlin made the team out of training camp as an undrafted rookie.
Mims now has five of the Broncos’ seven receptions of at least 30 yards despite fewer snaps than most of the team’s other receivers. McLaughlin’s 31-yard run Sunday was the longest run play this season and the Broncos’ only rushing play of more than 16 yards through four games.
McLaughlin, who scored on an 18-yard catch-and-run screen pass for the Broncos' first touchdown of the game and now has two touchdowns in his 17 total touches this season, may now be forced to play far more given Javonte Williams left Sunday’s game in the first half with a hip injury and did not return. Williams is scheduled for an MRI exam Monday.
“Seeing Javonte go down was tough,’’ Wilson said. “ … but the spirit of (McLaughlin) is what’s amazing, his confidence, he just believes how great he can be. He works at it every day.’’
McLaughlin added seven carries Sunday, but his 13 total are third on the team behind Williams’ 38 and Samaje Perine’s 18. McLaughlin is the team’s fastest running back -- he ran a 4.46 hand-timed 40-yard dash at Youngstown State’s pro day last March -- and his short-area quickness has sent more than one defender grasping at the open space he left behind. But at 5-foot-9, 183 pounds, Payton has been cautious about when the rookie is in the lineup.
“The trick is -- he’s done a ton of good things -- but, man, there’s some things I don’t want to get caught with a mismatch and it happened in the first half when he’s blocking a bigger linebacker,’’ Payton said. “So, you’re having to manage that relative to when he’s in and when he’s not. He was outstanding. (He is) hard to tackle, good in space, made the screen for a touchdown.’’
For his part, Mims has been the Broncos' big-play receiver in the early going. He leads the team by a wide margin with a 26.9 yards-per-catch average. He has the team’s longest touchdown catch (60 yards) and five of his nine receptions have been on the 30 or more yards variety, including Sunday’s game-changer.
On the 48-yarder, Payton said he purposely put Mims and Jerry Jeudy in the formation in a specific way to force the Bears’ defense, with three rookies getting playing time in the secondary, to pick its poison.
“They were playing some young guys,’’ Payton said. “ … We put Jeudy inside to kind of keep the safeties on their landmarks and Russ made a real good throw to Marvin.’’
“Those guys, we’re going to need them,’’ said Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who caught his third touchdown pass of the season in the win. “Everybody understood the severity, the urgency of this game.’’