May 24, 2024

Okwuegbunam, McLaughlin help the Broncos rout the mistake-prone Rams 41-0 in preseason finale

Denver Broncos quarterback Jarrett Stidham runs against the Los Angeles Rams during the first half of an NFL preseason football game Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

By ARNIE STAPLETON AP Pro Football Writer
DENVER (AP) — His teammates serenaded tight end Albert Okwuegbunam after he played the starring role in the Denver Broncos’ 41-0 blowout of the Los Angeles Rams in the teams’ preseason closer Saturday night.
“Albert O! Albert O!” they hollered as he emerged from the showers wearing but a towel and a smile.
“One thing about this profession is you don’t get to pick when you get opportunities, but you get to pick when you take advantage of them,” Okwuegbunam said after catching seven passes in eight targets for 109 yards and a TD.
The capper was a one-handed, 20-yard grab on fourth down that set up Denver’s final TD.
“He’s a monster,” said undrafted rookie running back Jaleel McLaughlin, who scored his fourth touchdown of the preseason in his most extensive action yet.
Jarrett Stidham directed Denver to scores on its first five drives. Wearing white uniforms at home for the first time in 20 years, the Broncos built a 27-0 halftime lead after lighting up their mammoth new scoreboard, the gemstone of a $100 million offseason stadium upgrade.
“That was a humbling night,” said Rams coach Sean McVay, who once again sat most of his starters through the preseason. “That’s not a night you ever want to go through no matter what your approach is. … There are some guys that got that some opportunities that we might be counting on for our 53 and so I’ll have to be able to look at some film but tonight was a good humbling night that you sometimes have in football and you have to be able to learn from them and move on accoprdingly.”
The game marked the Broncos’ first taste of success under coach Sean Payton, who grumbled over last-minute one-point exhibition losses at Arizona and San Francisco.
“Obviously, there were a lot of things to be pleased about,” Payton said.
The Rams (0-3) sat Matthew Stafford and several other starters the entire preseason.
The Broncos (1-2) sat Russell Wilson and most of their starters, too. Wilson’s one TD toss of the preseason went to Jerry Jeudy, who is expected to miss several weeks after pulling his right hamstring in the second of two joint practices with the Rams on Thursday.
McLaughlin, the NCAA’s career rushing leader who went undrafted out of Youngstown State, capped Denver’s opening drive with a 1-yard TD run.
That came one play after Rams defensive back Trey Tomlinson was disqualified for grabbing receiver Marvin Mims Jr.’s facemask and pulling him to the ground just inside the 1.
“I can see how it looked,” McVay said. “You know, Mims was trying to stiff arm him and he was really just trying to be able to get a hold of anything to be able to bring him down. I know Tre wasn’t intentionally going for that.”
Brett Maher kicked field goals of 46 and 33 yards, Tony Jones Jr. scored from a yard out and Stidham threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Okwuegbunam.
“He had a big night, I mean holy cow,” Payton said of Okwuegbunam, who’s made a strong push over the last two weeks to stay on the 53-man roster.
Okwuegbunam also had a terrific one-handed 20-yard catch on fourth-and-4 at the L.A. 27 in the fourth quarter, setting up Ben DiNucci’s 3-yard TD strike to Josh Hammond, also on fourth down.
Marvin Mims Jr.’s 50-yard catch set up one of the field goals and fellow rookie Drew Sanders’ interception set up Jones’ touchdown. Essang Bassey also had an interception of Stetson Bennett, who completed just 4 of 9 passes for 14 yards in the first half.
“I thought it went pretty bad,” Bennett said. “Glad it’s all on film, get to learn from it and move on but not too many positives, I don’t think.”
Stidham was 17 of 28 for 236 yards, one TD and no interceptions or sacks in his half of play.
After Tanner Brown missed a 39-yard field goal for L.A., Ben DiNucci directed a 16-play, 71-yard drive that chewed up nearly nine minutes and was capped by Tyler Badie’s 1-yard run that made it 34-0.
“I feel better tonight about our depth than I did a week ago or two weeks ago,” Payton said.
INJURIES
Broncos T Demontrey Jacobs (ankle) was hurt in the third quarter when he got rolled up on during a running play. He limped off the field after staying down for a while. Also injured were Rams DB Rashad Torrence (knee), Broncos T Alex Palczewski (hand) and Broncos OLB Christopher Allen (groin).
UP NEXT
Rams: Open the regular season at Seattle on Sept. 10.
Broncos: Host Las Vegas on Sept. 10.