By ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Pro Football Writer
DENVER (AP) — A trio of Broncos returning from injuries celebrated their 2021 debuts in Denver’s 17-12 win over the Los Angeles Rams’ reserves in the preseason finale Saturday night.
Courtland Sutton caught an 8-yard touchdown pass, Von Miller made three tackles and Albert Okwuegbunam had a team-best three receptions.
All three were hurt last year, with Miller missing the entire season with an ankle injury and Sutton and Okwuegbunam tearing their right ACLs, limiting them to one and four games, respectively.
All three were game captains and headed out for the coin flip before kickoff.
“It was great to see all these guys, come back from injuries, good to see Albert O, and Courtland, all these guys and myself, as well,” Miller said. “Whenever you’re in rehab all you think about is, ‘I can’t wait to play football. I can’t wait to play.’ When you get out there, you really don’t think about it. It’s always the next play, always getting a sack, doing it for the win.
“You don’t really like reflect on rehab and stuff, but I need to kind of look up and really take in the type of environment that we have here in Broncos country. We had 53,000 fans here. Last year, we didn’t have any. It felt really, really good to be back in the stadium, to be back with all the guys. It was a great day.”
The Broncos won all three of their preseason games while playing starters for much of the first halves, and the Rams went 0-3 playing their backups.
Teddy Bridgewater, who edged incumbent Drew Lock in the Broncos’ summer quarterback clash, started out with four incompletions, all of them off his receivers’ hands, before hitting six of his next seven, including an 8-yard touchdown strike to a sliding Sutton.
“That moment, it was special,” Bridgewater said, “because we know how much Court means to us.”
Bridgewater blamed his slow start on wanting to get Sutton and Okwuegbunam going early.
After Denver’s first drive ended in a field goal, the Broncos went three-and-out, marking the first time in six preseason possessions under Bridgewater the Broncos failed to score.
Matt Gay kicked three of his four field goals in the first half, including a 23-yarder as time expired after Rams defensive lineman Michael Hoecht had a strip-sack and fumble recovery of Lock at the Broncos 18 with just 34 seconds left before halftime.
After two three-and-outs and a lost fumble, Lock finally got going and drove Denver 74 yards, the payoff coming on a 7-yard touchdown toss to tight end Austin Fort for a 17-12 lead.
The Rams got the ball back at their 12 with 2:37 left and reached the Broncos’ 22 before stalling as the clock expired.
“I thought a lot of guys did an excellent job of making our decisions over the next 48 and 72 hours very difficult,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “And I think they can look themselves in the mirror and be very proud of that.”
When Bryce Perkins’ pass on fourth-and-15 sailed over tight end Jacob Harris’ head as time expired, Denver’s defense completed an entire preseason without allowing a touchdown.
“The goal is to be No. 1 and that’s one of the goals that is attainable out there,” defensive end Shelby Harris said. “To be No. 1, that’s all we care about. We have the tools to be No. 1, and we’ve got to go out there and prove it every week.”
The Broncos played their starting defense for three series and held the Rams to a pair of field goals. After a three-and-out to start the game, Los Angeles had a pair of 11-play drives that ate up more than 12½ minutes and 101 yards.
Denver allowed seven field goals in the three exhibitions, outscoring opponents 80-21.
Despite losing special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis to COVID-19 protocol, the Rams shined in the kicking game, especially Corey Bojorquez, who had punts of 67 and 70 yards that were misplayed by Kendall Hinton and twice pinned the Broncos at their 1.
McVay said wide receivers coach Eric Yarber was also placed in COVID-19 protocols.
“I’ll just say they’re both vaccinated, so we’re hopeful that they’ll be back sooner rather than later,” McVay said.
A week after committing zero penalties, the Broncos were flagged just twice for 20 yards, giving them seven penalties for 75 yards in the preseason.
RAMS: open season hosting the Chicago Bears on Sunday night, Sept. 12.
BRONCOS: open season at the New York Giants on Sept. 12.
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