ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos' winningest quarterbacks have covered a spectrum of emotion, drive and "it" factor -- each combination as unique as their own fingerprints.
And Broncos players adopt the style of each quarterback. From John Elway's white-hot intensity to Jake Plummer's free-wheeling competitiveness to Peyton Manning's ever-churning brain, those who have flourished at the position over the past four decades have had their way become the Broncos' way.
Teddy Bridgewater is six games into his Broncos tenure and has already experienced the highs and lows of this quarterback-mad Rocky Mountain region. The Broncos opened the season with a three-game winning streak and all was right in the football world. Heading into Thursday night's game at the Cleveland Browns (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox), the Broncos have lost three in a row, with the requisite hand-wringing all around.
Bridgewater has sported a slight limp through the week with a left foot injury, but has offered his trademark don't-worry promise, "I'm going to continue to attack this rehab, continue to just lock in on the game plan, and try to make sure I'm ready when Thursday comes."
What becomes of Bridgewater's tenure is a story in progress, right down to the matter of whether this will be a one-year experiment. But Bridgewater calls himself "a survivor," and he has already put his signature on this team with his calm demeanor and thoughtful words.
His "it's cool" response to most issues is part of a composed, detail-oriented, Zen-infused player who has already become one of the most important voices in the Denver locker room.
"It happened fast," Broncos safety Justin Simmons said. "Because of who he is and how he goes about it."
How it happened so fast it can be seen, perhaps, in the Tao of Teddy.
Giving credit, taking blame
"When you win, point your finger at your teammates and when you lose, point the thumb at yourself. Today was one of those days when I point the thumb at myself." -- Bridgewater
Manning always said one of the jobs of a quarterback was to lead the way in accountability -- no matter what and without fail.
"Every interception has a story and nobody wants to hear it," he often said. Plummer put it in his own to-the-point way, that a quarterback's job was "to take the blame, you always stand up and fight for your guys."
Bridgewater has blamed himself for every interception or turnover he has made this season, including the four in Sunday's loss to the Raiders. Bridgewater conceded he may have held the ball too long at times while trying to make a play. He lamented not giving "my guys a chance to make a play." He has generally carried the offensive issues on his shoulders.
"I'm a survivor, throw me in the jungle, and I'm going to come out with a fur coat and a headband that I made out of some leaves." Teddy Bridgewater
"And that's what you do," Plummer has said. "Everybody is going to tell you how great you are when you're winning even though everybody else should probably get more of that recognition, too, so when it's not going right, you stand up. You always fight for your guys, in games, during the week, whatever, man, that's the job."
Bridgewater said he tries to keep all of the chatter, especially social media, at bay, for his own mental health. That includes an electronic blackout of sorts -- "I watch a little Netflix" -- unless, he concedes, there is a promotional deal involved.
"I get on social media just to post about my children's book, 'Little Bear Teddy,'" Bridgewater said. "I haven't tweeted since the Miami Heat were in the Finals in the bubble against the Lakers. Honestly, it's one of those deals where it can't do anything for you but break you a lot of times in this profession. You've got so many fantasy owners who want you to throw the ball to that guy, or [people] who tell you how good you are and how bad you are. Me, I'm a guy -- I really stay away from it unless I'm getting paid to post or something like that."
To yell or not to yell
"I've never been a screamer. I pay attention to guys sometimes. You have those guys who sometimes don't do well when you scream at them, so you pull a guy to the side [and you say], 'Hey man, I need you here. When you hit that seventh step, make sure you get out of the break. I'm throwing it and if you're not there, then I'm getting to the next guy.' ... So, little dialogue like that, it holds a lot of value." -- Bridgewater
Broncos linebacker Von Miller, who is the team's longest-tenured player, was wearing a microphone during a game earlier this season. Through the years, Miller has transitioned from the uber-talented 20-something to a voice of experience who has routinely cited players such as Manning and DeMarcus Ware as those with the leadership styles he coveted.
Ware was often a calming voice of excellence and experience while Manning, his teammates have often said, exerted pressure with his fanatical preparation.
Bridgewater is often seen talking to players off to the side, away from others, between drills, in the team's cafeteria, at dinners, most anywhere he can put a word in. He also has earned more than a few compliments for his pregame words each week.
It was one of those pregame presentations earlier this season that caused Miller, with microphone on, to tell Bridgewater near the bench: "I haven't felt that in a while, since 18 [Manning] was here, man. Keep with that s---, those little pep talks go a long way ... we need that s---. We haven't had that in a minute. I love you bro."
Bridgewater has said, as he has organized some extra sessions with the offense at the end of practices, it's the "extra time" players put in that can be the difference in holding things together during difficult football times like the Broncos are facing now.
"The coaches may say it one way but when the coaches leave the field and we stay behind, I feel like that's when we take ownership as players," Bridgewater said. "We put in the extra, and we make it ours."
Life and football
"Appreciate life and the simple things in life. ... Always smile. ... I watched my mom go through something; I've been through something. We all have a story. It's all about how we can spin that story, if it's negative, and make it a positive. My mom did just that. Every day I walk around and I put my feet on the soil, I'm happy. Life is short. You can't take it for granted." -- Bridgewater
Bridgewater is quick to point out that his mother's battle with breast cancer when he was younger has impacted how he has approached things on and off the field. Earlier this season he described how his mother lost her hair, how her fingernails turned black during chemotherapy and how he would often help her in and out of bed or to the bathroom.
When he suffered a career-threatening tibiofemoral dislocation -- the femur and tibia bones essentially became disconnected -- in 2016 Bridgewater said, "They were worried they were going to have to amputate my leg." The injury kept Bridgewater off the field for almost two full seasons -- he missed all of 2016 and played one game in 2017. He didn't start more than five games in a season again, as he had done the year before the injury in 2015, until 2020 when he had signed with the Carolina Panthers.
Bridgewater has rebounded from it and seems unflappable now. He may not be a social media regular, but his Twitter handle still has a bio that proclaims him as "the neighborhood hope dealer."
"You'd hate to see if a quarterback made a mistake, and you see it on his face, and he's flustered," Broncos running back Melvin Gordon III said. "You don't want to see that from your quarterback. [Bridgewater's] calmness brings calmness to the whole group. It kind of calms everybody down."
Some who know him say it's what makes the usually smiling, mostly unperturbed Bridgewater a study in mental toughness. That even as the game was almost taken away from him as a 24-year-old who had already been named to a Pro Bowl, he seems intent on willing, instead of yelling, something good to happen.
"I'm a survivor, throw me in the jungle, and I'm going to come out with a fur coat and a headband that I made out of some leaves," Bridgewater said earlier this season. "It's about surviving at this point. Every day, I have my fire that's lit and it's like God is placing me in different positions for a reason. I've made an impact everywhere I've been -- some on the field, some off the field."