The Denver Broncos claimed an incredibly crucial victory in Week 12. Denver defended their home-field advantage by defeating their AFC West rival Los Angeles Chargers by a healthy two scores. The win propelled the surging Broncos to 6-5 on the year, placing them in a three-way tie with the Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders for second place in their ultra-competitive division. The Broncos are often the forgotten team in this tight divisional battle, but a dominant showing against the Chargers ensured they remain in the thick of a heated race. A massive matchup with the first-place Kansas City Chiefs awaits them in this weekend's Sunday Night Football contest.
The Broncos were especially dominant on the defensive side of the ball. They held superstar running back Austin Ekeler to just 31 rushing yards on 12 attempts, which equates to an average of 2.6 yards per carry. Starting quarterback Justin Herbert was held to a net of under 300 passing yards while throwing two costly interceptions. Both of Herbert's turnovers were claimed by Broncos rookie cornerback Patrick Surtain II, who has been in excellent form all throughout his rookie campaign. It was the first multi-interception game of Surtain's young career, and each turnover made a profound impact on the final outcome.
Surtain's first interception was recorded early in the fourth quarter in the end zone on a pass intended for veteran tight end Jared Cook. Denver's offense took over possession, marched down the field, and scored a touchdown that extended their lead to 21-7. Surtain's second and final interception was truly special, as Herbert's pass bounced off the hands of Ekeler into the waiting arms of Surtain, who returned it 70 yards the other way for his first career pick-six. It busted open Denver's lead to 28-7 and effectively ended the contest right then and there.
Through 11 appearances, the former Alabama standout has compiled an impressive 37 tackles, three interceptions, and a team-high 11 passes defended. Broncos general manager George Paton received his fair share of criticism for opting to select Surtain in the top 10 of the 2021 NFL Draft ahead of quarterbacks such as Justin Fields and Mac Jones, but Surtain's early-season play is indicative of the type of lockdown cornerback that is difficult to come across.
Surtain's ability to hit the ground running as a professional was expected based on the collegiate career he built for himself at Alabama. A red-hot commodity entering the draft, Surtain routinely showcased dynamic abilities on tape. A former 5-star recruit, Surtain possesses excellent size (6-foot-1, 203 pounds) for the position. His ball skills were often his top-selling feature, and the early returns on his ball production have been terrific at the professional level. Surtain's competitiveness at the catch point is enhanced by his ideal length and advanced understanding of a multitude of coverages and techniques.
He's certainly catching the eye of his teammates.
"When I talk about Pat, the first thing that comes to mind is how wise he is beyond his years," teammate Justin Simmons recently said. "The game of football comes effortlessly to him. That’s what really separates him from the pack. A lot of guys have the athletic ability to go out there and play corner. What makes Surtain special is that he’s able to do that while also incorporating the mental aspect of the game at such a high level. He recognizes how offenses want to attack us as a defense. He understands route combinations depending on the receiver’s stem. I can’t even say that I’m shocked by his current form. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I’m very lucky to call him a teammate."
The Broncos’ standout rookie cornerback continues to blossom and flourish right before our watchful eyes. A matchup with the Mahomes-led Chiefs looms large. It would hardly be a surprise to witness Surtain leave his fingerprints on that ever-important outcome.