Denver, Colorado 2020-10-18 16:35:52 –
DENVER – This is what Broncos Country wanted to see. Anger and frustration turn into clinical execution.
The Broncos have reacted with disappointment and disbelief after losing their week off and postponing three of their games. They have become a pawn in the NFL chess game for awkwardly maneuvering around the COVID-19 virus. The Broncos were faced with a choice: complain about the inconvenience or express their frustration at the Patriots.
They came out screaming and hitting.
Looking like a team determined to return to relevance, the Broncos won their biggest win under Vic Fangio, shocking the New England Patriots 18-12 Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
“I think there is no doubt that you have to learn to win,” said coach Vic Fangio. “I hope we can learn from that. It’s two games in a row. I’m proud of the guys.”
Of course, it came with the accompanying drama. Nothing ever comes easy for the 2-3 Broncos. Holding an 18-3 lead, the Broncos defense loosened its grip as Drew Lock made back-to-back interceptions in the fourth quarter.
“There were anxious times,” Lock said. “I really feel like we are a really good team. The special teams and the defense have carried us today without a doubt.”
After stopping a two-point conversion, leaving it 18-9, the Broncos looked ready to finish. The offense, which had played cleanly, dissolved before Denver’s eyes. Lock threw an interception on miscommunication with wide receiver Tim Patrick. Lock, who finished 10 of 24 for 189 yards, threw at sticks and Patrick never looked back.
“It was 100 percent on me,” Lock said.
The turnover led to a field goal. At 18-12 with 3:23 to go, the Broncos needed two first downs to secure their biggest win of the season. Instead, they got another pick, with the Broncos refusing to run despite Phillip Lindsay scoring 102 rushing yards.
In a revealing play call, Lock fell back and shot down midfield. It was meant for Patrick, and chosen again.
“It’s that offense,” Lock said. “We are going to push the bottom of the field.”
It boiled down to this. The Patriots faced a fourth and ten on the Broncos 24-yard line with one minute remaining. Fangio, who underwent personality bypass surgery two weeks ago due to his defensive philosophy, has avoided the conservative stance. He sent Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons on security blitzes, helping to collapse the pocket and leading Newton’s dirt ball.
“Our confidence was at an all time high at that point,” Simmons said.
It shouldn’t have come down to this. The Broncos dominated, but smashed the Patriots over the head with a PVC pipe. It rang hollow because they didn’t score any touchdowns. However, the defense held the head up with one last fist to the throat.
“A lot of times it’s been, ‘Here we are in Denver. We can’t finish it,’” McManus said. “But there was a different energy today. The defense was flying. They took it on their shoulders like me. It was great to see how it ended.”
In truth, the Patriots looked like a team that had barely practiced for two weeks – which they were – and the Broncos took on the role of lion with a piece of steak hanging in front of its face.
The Broncos scored on their first six possessions, the undertones of Peyton Manning’s salad days. However, Manning avoided the kicks. Denver’s scores all came from McManus field goals as Denver opened up a 15-point lead. Their first punt came with 14:03 left in the game, and should have been avoided if DaeSean Hamilton hadn’t dropped a long pass, one of many by Denver receivers.
The Broncos produced three takeaways, notable considering they had two for the season. The Broncos entered the game with two takeaways. They posted two games Sunday on a diving interception by DeShawn Williams in his first career start and a fumble recovered by Justin Simmons from a tackle by rookie Michael Ojemudia. And they finished with four sacks, including two by sophomore pro Malik Reed and one by Bradley Chubb.
The Broncos have played like it’s personal after this game was postponed twice due to multiple positive COVID-19 tests by the Patriots.
“Across the organization I think we handled it well,” said McManus, the player representative, who said he held virtual meetings on Saturday night after testing positive for COVID-19. “I want to see guys get paid for the work they do.”
It started with a gust that was juxtaposed at the choppy end.
They weren’t worried about facilitating Lock’s comeback with throws out of speed. He came out shooting fast balls, going to the end zone three times on the first two drives. He designed a basket in his first practice, connecting with Tim Patrick on a 41-yard gain on the straight sideline. McManus converted a 45-yard kick to give the Broncos a 3-0 lead.
A remarkable effort, mixed with aggressiveness, created another chance to score. The Broncos entered the game aware of Cam Newton’s problems with the blitz. The Broncos lobbied midfield with former hoops star Shelby Harris vertical with a block. DeShawn Williams, out of the NFL for more than 1,300 days, made a catch-worthy diving catch. The Broncos, however, couldn’t punish the Patriots, settling for a McManus 44-yard field goal.
Very early on, the game plan started to crystallize: blitz on defense, including safeties in the running game, and take some deep strikes on Albert Okwuegbunam. Active for that time this season as his health improved and Noah Fant sat with a sprained ankle, he became a magnet for Lock’s passing. The former Missouri teammates connected on two passes for 45 yards early and were targeted five times. As with Jerry Jeudy on the first disc, Okwuegbunam failed to make a scoring pass in the second quarter.
The departure of the Broncos, while surprising, therefore felt vulnerable. The Broncos were content with a 27-yard goalstop from McManus – field goals are a recipe for losing road games – inflating Denver’s cushion to 9-0 with 12:03 left in the half.
Newton picked up pace in the second quarter. He completed 9 of the first 11 passes and hung on to make two nice dump throws. The Broncos neutralized the Patriots receivers, but struggled with yards after the catch on short roads. A third save – Newton had pressure on his face on a short jump to Julian Edelman – led to a 41-yard basket from Nick Folk, reducing the deficit to 9-3.
The Broncos understood that the road to an upheaval was paved, in part, on the ground. Winning requires balance, and the Broncos have shown a running game that was lacking for much of the season. Their rushed attack was anemic after four games, ranking 29th at 92.5 per game. With improved blocking up front and caffeine jerks from Phillip Lindsay, the Broncos had 86 rushing yards in the first half. Lindsay created a catalytic response with 54 yards on nine carries.
With the Patriots pulling the chin, begging a tedder, the Broncos couldn’t deliver. They settled for McManus’ fourth field goal in the first half after Lock took a bad sack. The good news is that he appeared fine after his first big hit on his return from his right rotator cuff strain. McManus’ 51-yard blast pushed him into the record books by tying Matt Prater for most of the 50-yard field goals in Broncos history, a mark he would later break.
McManus has a game ball. Running back coach Curtis Modkins, who did not travel after testing positive for COVID-19, will also receive one.
It wasn’t perfect. But it was a triumph that offers a potential return to relevance.
“It’s a hard-minded group of people. It was on display today,” Fangio said. “It could have been an easy win, but sometimes in the NFL it just doesn’t happen.”
Left guard Dalton Risner left after the last drive of the first half with a shoulder injury and did not return. …
Bradley Chubb posted a sack for the second straight game, hitting Cam Newton and stripping the ball in the Patriots’ first practice. …
DeShawn Williams produced the large selection. He became the 19th player in franchise history to record an interception on his first career start. He joins Elvis Dumervil as the only defensive lineman in Broncos history to accomplish the feat. …
McManus is the Broncos’ first kicker with six goals on the line since Jason Elam in 1997. …
The Broncos’ inactive roster included a surprise. Rookie McTelvin Agim was a good streak as former first-round pick Sylvester Williams was activated to bolster the inside defense against the run. Joining Agim on the inactive roster were Noah Fant (he is expected to return Sunday against the counts of his high ankle sprain), Melvin Gordon (not COVID-19 disease), Nenane Muti, Jeremiah Attaochu (second in a row), quarterback Jeff Driskel (lost save to Brett Rypien), and wide receiver KJ Hamler (hamstring, could be back on Sunday).