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Broncos come away with first road win satisfied but not yet justified

With flashes of brilliance intertwined with frustratingly crippling penalties, the Broncos left MetLife Stadium with a victory this time but not a resounding assurance of dominance.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

It was a road win.

That explains a lot about the feeling after the Broncos' 31-17 win over a struggling Jets team - a team Broncos fans believed should get beaten handily but Broncos players insisted would put up a tough fight.

In the end, both scenarios were true.

But it was the Broncos defense once again that put in the game-winning performance, solidifying a victory that showed signs of slipping away before Aqib Talib's electrifying pick six at the Jets 22-yard line with 23 seconds to go in the game.

"We kind of knew what [Jets quarterback Geno Smith] had to do. He was going to get the ball out of his hands. He had to, really," said Talib, who had four tackles and two passes defended in addition to his interception. "He just threw it up and I had a play on it."

We kind of knew what Geno Smith had to do. He just threw it up, and I had a play on it.   -Aqib Talib on his pick six against the Jets

After the Broncos failed to score on their drive late in the fourth quarter, a punt downed at the five yard line gave the Jets one last chance to rectify a so-far dismal season.

Though the likelihood of Smith being able to go 95 yards in the final minute to tie the game at 24 (or, sheesh, win with a two-point conversion) would have been highly unlikely given the Jets' offensive performance to that point, it would not have been out of the question.

So Talib's interception was a huge sigh of relief for Broncos fans everywhere, including to the sea of orange that descended upon Met Life Stadium yesterday.

And that pick six was in large part thanks to the sack on Smith the play before by Von Miller and Derek Wolfe that put the Jets on their own one with less than 30 seconds in the game.

Terrance Knighton pointed out that the Broncos defense was doing that all day, racking up four sacks on Smith and providing the sixth game in a row in which Smith has thrown an interception.

"With the front four we've got rushing - Malik, Wolfe, Demarcus and Von - [the offense] is not going to have time," said Pot Roast. "And [Jets] couldn't run the ball. We made their offense one-dimensional."

Rex Ryan certainly noted the Broncos' dominance on his team's offense. "You have to get it out of your hands," Ryan said of their inability to get much going. "They have two of the best edge rushers in the league, so I think that's one of the reasons."

Just about the only offense the Jets have had so far this year has been thanks to its running game, and the Broncos all but eliminated that, holding the mobile Smith plus running backs Chris Johnson, Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell to a total 31 yards.

Thank goodness too, because the up-and-down Broncos offense needed its D to keep it in the game once again. Following a disappointing opening drive that started spectacularly with a 54-yard catch by Demaryius Thomas but ended in just a field goal, the next four offensive series were dominated by the offensive holding flag.

"Yeah, we were on the wrong side of that," said head coach John Fox.

Um, yeah.

Manning had a little more insight on that, noting that it's tough to overcome 1st and 20s/2nd and 20s, especially when facing a defense that put eight in coverage a good part of the day.

I don't know how many penalties we had. It felt like a lot. We have to fix that quickly. There were too many series where we had some mistakes that made it tough to move the ball.   -Peyton Manning, quarterback

"I don't know how many penalties we had, it felt like a lot," Manning said. (For the record, it was 11 for a whopping 101 yards.) "We have to fix that quickly. When we did execute, we moved the ball and scored touchdowns, but I thought there were too many series where we had some mistakes that made it tough to move the ball against a good defense."

To the surprise of many fans, the Broncos running game was able to find its feet Sunday as the Jets dedicated most of their cover to the Broncos' passing game.

"The way the Jets played us, my guess was, they didn't think much of our running game," Manning said after the game. "When you take your two linebackers and walk them both out on your two receivers, they're basically kind of laughing at your running game. Based on what we've been doing, it was probably a valid philosophy."

But it was the Broncos running backs who did the laughing much of the day as Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson combined for 138 yards against one of the best run defenses in the NFL.

"It was good to get the running game kind of going today," Manning said, giving props to both Hillman, who put up 100 of the 138 rushing yards, and the rookie. "Like I said, if we can just eliminate those negative plays and those penalty plays where the run is a threat, then I think it's important to have that balance."

Though Manning's stats didn't showcase another 400+-yard game, the 38-year-old quarterback still had zero interceptions, three touchdowns and went 22 of 33 for 237 yards - all against a strong pass rush.

"I felt like the Jets defense was solid. I can't speak for what happened on the other side of the ball, I haven't followed it," Manning said. "Like I said, I have a lot of respect for their defense. They have good players and they are well coached... they give you lots of different looks."

The Jets defense was solid. They have good players and they are well-coached. They give you a lot of different looks.   -Peyton Manning on the Jets D.

Luckily for Manning - and Broncos Country - the QB has a lot of different receivers to handle those looks.

Demaryius Thomas put up a second A+ performance yesterday with 10 catches for 124 yards and one touchdown. Julius Thomas added two more touchdowns, 51 total receiving yards and an F-bomb to boot.

And though Emmanuel Sanders had his first sub-100-yard game and Wes Welker had only one catch on the day, both made key plays to help the offense.

"We work hard on our timing, and those guys are capable of making a lot of plays," Manning said, adding that offensive coordinator Adam Gase did a good job with the play-calling. "I thought Demaryius made a nice adjustment on his touchdown. Julius, as we've said throughout the season, is a touch matchup problem for teams. Do you put a corner on him? A safety? A linebacker? What do you do? [Jets] had some double teams towards him so that tells you what they thought of Julius."

Despite the bumps along the way to this win, Fox and the Broncos insist they aren't taking it for granted but will look at its many of the positives in addition to the improvement needed.

"I think it was a gritty victory," Fox said, emphasizing that the Jets were a top-six defense with a big running game and some explosive players. "We looked at the tape, and we knew it was going to be tough. Any time you come on the road in a hostile environment in this league is tough."

Manning appears to be ready to move on and figure out next Sunday night's opponent - the 49ers - followed by a short week before the Thursday night game against the dominating San Diego Chargers.

While fans, Brett Favre and Vegas will be calculating the odds of Manning getting the all-time touchdown record next week, Manning is only concerned about winning games.

"We have the 49ers next week at home. It's the team that's been one of the dominant teams in the NFL the past couple of years. That's all I'm thinking about. I'm just trying to find a way to win the game. If Ronnie wants to run for four touchdowns next week, I promise you I'm in favor of that," the five-time MVP said. "Two games in five days coming up. That's plenty to think about."