DENVER — Russell Wilson overcame a slow start and a cascade of boos in his Denver debut Sunday to lead the bungling Broncos past the Houston Texans 16-9.
The Broncos (1-1) were flagged 13 times for 100 yards, marking the first time in four years they’ve had back-to-back games with double-digit penalties.
But they pulled it out on defense, holding Houston (0-1-1) to a trio of field goals by Ka’imi Fairbairn.
After completing just six of his first 20 throws, Wilson went 4-for-4 on the Broncos’ go-ahead scoring drive that featured a 35-yard strike to a wide-open Courtland Sutton and a 22-yard payoff to tight end Eric Saubert that put Denver ahead 13-9 early in the fourth quarter.
Wilson, who finished 14 of 31 for 219 yards with one TD and an interception, followed that up by directing a clock-chewing drive that ended with Brandon McManus’ 50-yard field goal for a seven-point lead with 3:41 remaining.
Davis Mills had the Texans on the move when Randy Gregory registered his first sack for the Broncos just before the two-minute mark to help stall Houston’s bid to tie it.
The Texans came in as 10-point underdogs but made the Broncos and their crowd sweat out the possibility of an 0-2 start under rookie head coach Nathaniel Hackett, who had a number of problematic play calls a week after drawing widespread ridicule for taking the ball out of Wilson’s hands and attempting a 64-yard field goal in the final minute of a 17-16 loss at Seattle.
Six days after getting mercilessly booed in his return to Lumen Field, Wilson heard the boo-birds at home when he completed just 6 of 19 passes in the first half that ended in a 6-6 tie and again when he threw an interception on the opening drive of the second half.
Wilson got a huge ovation when he ran out of the tunnel and through the smoke, but the love didn’t last long as a series of dropped passes and misfires stoked the crowd that didn’t like the undisciplined play and sputtering offense after an offseason of change gave them hope for a turnaround.
On one of his incompletions, Wilson lost wide receiver Jerry Jeudy to an injured right shoulder. It’s the second straight September that Jeudy has gotten hurt; he missed two months last season after spraining an ankle in the opener.
And after going 0-for-4 in the red zone at Seattle on Monday night, the Broncos twice drove inside their opponents 5-yard line in the first half only to come away with field goals.
In the first quarter, Wilson had three incompletions from the Texans 2, including one where Sutton failed to get his left foot down inbounds.
Just before halftime, Wilson threw incomplete to Javonte Williams at the goal line from the 5 when it appeared he could have run it into the end zone himself. Then, after Williams bullied his way to the 1, Wilson lined up in shotgun and had to throw the ball away, bringing McManus on again for a 24-yarder that tied it with 20 seconds left.
The Broncos also lost star cornerback Patrick Surtain II to a shoulder injury.
Fairbairn’s 24-yarder put the Texans up 9-6 after linebacker Christian Kirksey wrested the ball from Sutton at the Denver 45-yard line on the second play of the second half.
The Broncos responded by driving into field-goal range, but they ran fullback Andrew Beck wide right on third-and-1 from the Houston 35, then McManus’ 54-yarder was nullified by a delay of game flag, Denver’s third so far this season, one more than all of last season.
Houston LB Kevin Pierre-Lewis (groin) left in the third quarter with an unspecified injury and DB Derek Stingley Jr. left with an unspecified injury. Jeudy’s injury came on a day the Broncos were already without third receiver KJ Hamler, who is easing his way back from knee and hip surgeries. And Surtain’s injury came on the same day star S Justin Simmons had his 66-game starting streak end because of a thigh injury. Also out were starters ILB Josey Jewell (calf) and RG Quinn Meinerz (hamstring).
The Texans visit Soldier Field on Sunday.
The Broncos host the 49ers on Sunday night.