GLENDALE, Arizona – New Denver Broncos coach Sean Payton came out strong – possibly a little too strong – in support of his veteran quarterback earlier in training camp.
After a bit of a slow start, Russell Wilson rewarded his coach's confidence with a solid performance.
Wilson capped a lengthy preseason outing with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Jeudy before the Arizona Cardinals rallied for a last-second 18-17 victory over the Broncos on Friday night. Payton said that Wilson was “sharp,” but was disappointed that his team couldn't hang on for the win.
“Regardless if it is a preseason game or a regular season game, you just can't stand losing,” Payton said. “Especially in that fashion.”
Cardinals third-string quarterback David Blough led the winning drive, hitting Brian Cobbs for an 18-yard touchdown pass with two seconds left to pull within 17-16. Arizona then converted its 2-point attempt when Emari Demercado pushed the pile and fell into the end zone.
“That's always special,” Blough said. “That's why we play the game.”
Wilson – who played most of the first half – completed 7 of 13 passes for 93 yards and also absorbed several big hits, including a sack by Dennis Gardeck. The nine-time Pro Bowl selection didn't have much time to throw, particularly in the first quarter, but ended his outing on a good note after finding a wide-open Jeudy over the middle for a touchdown on fourth down with 6:54 left in the second.
“I thought it was really good how we responded after the first drive,” Wilson said. “We really responded, getting the ball moving.”
It was Wilson's first game action since first-year Denver coach Sean Payton got into hot water for defending his quarterback, telling a reporter that last year's coach Nathaniel Hackett did “one of the worst coaching jobs in the NFL” and saying there were “20 dirty hands” around Wilson’s career-worst season in 2022.
Payton eventually said he regretted those comments.
Elliott Fry made a 55-yard field goal just before halftime to give the Broncos a 10-0 lead.
Jonathan Gannon got the win in his preseason debut as Arizona's head coach after he was hired during the offseason to replace Kliff Kingsbury. He spent the previous two seasons as the defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles.
“The most important thing is the good, the bad and the ugly – we've got to learn from it,” Gannon said. “We've got to clean up some mistakes, all three phases. We've got to get a little better from this tape. Saying that, I liked the way they competed. They ran well, hit well, and we had some things we executed down the stretch.”
Arizona's Colt McCoy was 4 of 4 for 17 yards in the opening series, which was his only action of the night. The 36-year-old is expected to be the team's starter until Kyler Murray returns from his knee injury.
Gannon said he was pleased with his team's defense, particularly when the starters were in the game early. A handful of players – like Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons – were playing new positions. Collins switched to more of an edge rushing role while Simmons moved from safety to linebacker.
“We were letting loose,” Collins said. “Didn't really try to do anything too fancy. Just let us go and see how we rushed for the first time. I thought it went well.”
Rookie Clayton Tune threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Kaden Davis to tie the game at 10-all with 12:25 left. Denver's Jaleel McLaughlin ran for a 4-yard touchdown to push the Broncos ahead 17-10 with 1:30 remaining.
The 59-year-old Payton previously coached the New Orleans Saints for 15 seasons, leading the franchise to a Super Bowl win during the 2009 season.
Denver's Essang Bassey and Arizona's Antonio Hamilton Sr. each had an interception. Broncos backup Jarrett Stidham completed 5 of 15 passes for 50 yards and an interception.
The Broncos missed two field goals – a 47-yarder by Brett Maher and a 50-yarder by Fry – and had another 52-yard attempt by Maher blocked. Arizona's Matt Prater missed a 53-yard attempt before making a 38-yarder.
Tune completed 13 of 23 passes for 135 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The fifth-round pick out of Houston could be Arizona's backup quarterback until Murray returns.
Denver defensive tackle D.J. Jones left the game in the first quarter with a concussion.
Arizona's Andre Baccellia left the game in the second half and was evaluated for a concussion.
Broncos: At San Francisco on Saturday, Aug. 19.
Cardinals: Host Kansas City on Saturday, Aug. 19.