Seeking jolt, Broncos tap QB Jarrett Stidham to beat rival Chargers

Field Level Media

December 30, 2023 at 6:44 am.

The Russell Wilson era appears to be over for the Denver Broncos.

Coach Sean Payton turned to Jarrett Stidham and away from Wilson in a must-win scenario against the visiting Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday afternoon.

“We’re desperately trying to win,” Payton said on Wednesday.

Wilson hasn’t played poorly this season, but the Broncos (7-8) have lost three of four after a five-game winning streak propelled Denver into the playoff picture.

They enter the week No. 12 in the AFC playoff field that will ultimately include just seven teams.

Wilson has completed 66.4 percent of his passes this season with 26 touchdown passes — tied for sixth best in the league — and eight interceptions.

In his last four games, Wilson has thrown for 871 yards with six touchdown passes and four interceptions.

Those stats didn’t translate into enough points or victories. Now the Broncos’ backup is a former Super Bowl MVP and nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback with the Seattle Seahawks who was traded to Denver for two first-round picks, two second-round picks, a fifth-round pick, quarterback Drew Lock, defensive lineman Shelby Harris and tight end Noah Fant.

“I can’t replace the entire offensive line,” Payton said. “I can’t bring in five new receivers.”

Stidham will be the 13th quarterback to start for Denver since Peyton Manning retired after winning the Super Bowl in February 2016. That was also the last time the Broncos were in the playoffs.

Stidham started the final two games for the Las Vegas Raiders last season, replacing Derek Carr, who was released and went on to sign with the New Orleans Saints in the offseason.

In his first start as Carr’s replacement late last season for the Raiders, Stidham had 365 passing yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions in a narrow defeat to the 49ers.

Carr and Wilson were healthy but were owed a substantial amount of guaranteed money if they were injured over the final two games and could not pass a future physical.

As was the case for Carr, the change in quarterbacks also appears to signal the end for Wilson in Denver after two disappointing seasons.

“The ongoing step is understanding how not to lose games before you learn how to win them,” Payton said. “Two-thirds of the games we see each weekend are lost before they’re ever won. We’re still learning that the hard way.”

Easton Stick has been starting at quarterback for the Chargers (5-10) since Justin Herbert went down with a broken right index finger against the Broncos in a 24-7 loss on Dec. 10.

Los Angeles has lost both games with Stick as the starter, beginning with a 63-21 defeat to the Raiders on Dec. 14 that resulted in the firing of coach Brandon Staley a day later.

The Chargers played better on offense last week, but had to settle for five field goals against the Buffalo Bills and ended up losing 24-22.

Chargers interim head coach Giff Smith said Stick has “put a lot of work into this place” in the five seasons since Los Angeles drafted him in the fifth round. Smith expects to finish the season with Stick under center.

Both teams will be without their best receivers.

Denver wide receiver Courtland Sutton is sidelined because of a concussion. He has 58 catches for 770 yards and 10 touchdowns, which is third in the NFL.

Los Angeles wide receiver Keenan Allen is sidelined due to a heel injury. Despite missing the past two games, Allen is still second in the NFL in catches with 108, and he has 1,243 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.

The Broncos also ruled out tight end Greg Dulcich (hamstring/foot) and offensive tackle Alex Palczewski (knee). Running back Dwayne Washington (illness) and wide receivers Jerry Jeudy (illness) and Marvin Mims Jr. (hamstring) were considered questionable.

The Chargers will be without wide receiver Josh Palmer (concussion) as well as linebacker Joey Bosa, who is not yet ready to return from a foot injury. Cornerback Deane Leonard (heel), tight end Nick Vannett (back) and guard Zion Johnson (neck) were all listed as questionable.