Except for a scoreboard operator, some slow drives at the beginning and a few twitchy balls, it was another stellar game for the Denver Broncos, who stifled AFC West foe San Diego Chargers in fantastic fashion Thursday night, winning 35-21.
Emmanuel Sanders was insanely good.
Ronnie Hillman was running out of his mind, looking like a Pro Bowl back out there.
Brandon Marshall was tackling like a boss.
Von Miller was a sacking/tackling/dancing (waddling?) fool.
Chris Harris, Jr is having a baby after the game (like "meeting my wife at the hospital" having a baby) and he's out there intercepting passes.
Rahim Moore made a crazy-good INT.
It was what we wanted - heck, what we expected! And it was certainly what we deserved because we worked for it. We planned for it.
But just because you deserve it because you've put in the time, doesn't mean you get it.
Unless you go after it - and take it.
And that is the difference in the Broncos this year.
No more just hoping we have the ball at the end to try and score more than the other team in an offensive shootout.
No more getting ahead and then backing off (hear that, Fox?)
No more playing just good enough, rather than good (or great!)
These last two games I've almost wondered what team I was watching.
Then I remembered it's OK to dominate.
The Broncos have definitely been remembering it, and Peyton Manning noted the aggressive approach.
"We have been more aggressive," Manning said, noting that better practice the last few weeks has been a contributing factor. "The best thing we've done these past two weeks is staying aggressive in the second half. The second half execution has been really solid, and I think that's had a big impact on the way we've finished these past couple of games."
That and possibly a little speech from Harris Jr.
"Chris [Harris Jr.] talked about having that killer instinct," Manning noted. "We had it last week, and I thought we had it again tonight - and it's important to have."
If the focus last Sunday night after the game was all about what Manning had done, tonight's focus was all about what everyone else had done.
No. 18 ran through a laundry list of accomplishments on the night.
"Emmanuel was great down there getting into the end zone. Demaryius was solid. I thought Welker's third-down catch might have been the biggest play of the game. So credit to all of those guys for being ready to play," Manning said.
Manning compliments every offensive lineman by NAME. That's no accident. Pumpin those guys up pic.twitter.com/9oPssXa1Qw— Darren McKee (@dmac1043) October 24, 2014
Manning specifically added that the "guys up front were great" before naming each one.
"I thought Manny [Ramirez] did a good job of communication. San Diego does a lot of different things, so he was on top of all the calls. [Louis] Vasquez and Orlando [Franklin] got that good push. [Ryan] Clady, holding one of the top pass rushers around in check, and Paul [Cornick], two weeks in a row, has done a really good job for his first couple starts. It really started up front tonight, and it opened up the passing game and the running game."
Boy, did it.
Manning only threw for 286 yards, a number that seems low when you're used to 400-yard games. But that's because the running game had a huge night. Ronnie "I- can-run-and-cut-and-cut-and-run" Hillman racked up 109 yards on 20 carries - a 5.5 average per carry - while undrafted rookie Juwan Thompson added another 24 yards and punched in two rushing touchdowns.
"We've just gotten better," said head coach John Fox after the game, pointing out the improved blocking on the O-line and from the tight ends. "It's something that we stress and work at very hard. The staff has done an excellent job and the players have responded."
For all his rushing yards, Hillman had no touchdowns to show for it while the rookie Thompson got to take the ball over the goal line twice.
But I doubt anyone is complaining too much about that this morning (except for the possible holding penalty that called back a 33-yard touchdown run by Hillman in the third quarter!)
"You have to get in there because you might not get another opportunity, especially with 18 back there," Thompson said. "He can change the play very quickly so you have to have that mindset that you can score anytime when they get within that five-yard range."
The receiving corps knows this better than anybody. It was a huge scoring night for Sanders, who has been pining for touchdowns, but Demaryius Thomas quietly pulled in 105 yards, his fourth 100+-yard game in a row. And Wes Welker, who only tallied five yards in two catches, had a key third-down conversion as well as a fumble recovery.
WES WELKER FOR MVP!— The Orange Page (@theorangepage) October 24, 2014
"They're all running full-speed routes, knowing the ball might come to them," Manning said after the game, adding that Welker is "more than a security blanket" and is a "great threat."
But it was definitely time for Sanders to be rewarded for his production in games and in practices this season.
And he was rewarded big! Sanders' three touchdowns marks the first in his NFL career that he scored multiple TDs.
"Well, it was definitely a great night to be a Bronco," Sanders said after the game, with only a slightly smaller smile than he had on the sidelines. "Tonight, No. 18 was just looking at me and it felt good. ...That's the reason I came here."
Manning said he didn't know if the offseason workouts and extra time with Sanders were the reason for the big night, but like the student of the game that he is, Manning added, "I'd rather not leave it to chance."
But Sanders wasn't without fault in the game. Luckily Welker bailed him out by recovering a fumble after a 17-yard play.
"All I could do was get up and laugh," Sanders said. "I was just thankful for Wes. That was a great hustle play by him to recover that fumble because that could have been bad."
Guess who gets the green football this week?
"Obviously, I need it, but it's no big deal. It's only going to make me better," Sanders added.
Now that's a championship attitude.
And while the offense was electrifying Mile High, the defense was putting up a stout performance of its own. The Chargers' running game put up a mere 61 yards total as rookie sensation Brandon Oliver was held to only 36 yards.
Though the defense did allow Philip Rivers to make some noise with Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd with a couple of quick touchdown drives in the second half, the game was really never in jeopardy.
"Last year they ran the ball well. This year, we made sure that they were one dimensional," said Terrance Knighton. "In order to keep a defense honest you have to be able to run the ball, and whenever they felt like they had an opportunity to run the ball we shut them down."
Brandon Marshall, who had a huge night with eight solo and two combined tackles, added that stopping the run has been a big defensive focus all season.
"If a team can run the ball, they'll be successful," Marshall said. "If we're going to stop the run, which we've done two weeks in a row, then that forces them to pass, and we can get in our different packages and dial up blitzes and do all kind of things that will help us out."
For the most part, that plan worked to perfection, stopping the run and giving up only a few big plays.
"We've just been grinding.That is what's been working for us-going out there and taking it one snap at a time," said Von Miller. "If they get the first down, we come back and we play harder. They just get a no-gain, and we come back and we try to push it until the next down. We're really starting to gel.
And as we've come to expect, Broncos Country was treated to a Von Miller sack followed by the #FunkyVonSackDance - or something like that.
On a key 3rd and 7 from San Diego's own 39, Miller pummeled the Chargers' QB for a five-yard loss.
And as we've also come to expect, Rivers added some antics to the game.
"He was just talking about the hit that I had," Miller noted. "I was telling him, ‘I don't really pay attention to the way I'm trying to hit you.' He was pretty upset about it. He threw a touchdown too, so he said some stuff and I wasn't really trying to hear it."
But DeMarcus Ware kinda likes hearing it sometimes because it fires up the defense too.
"You can sack Philip Rivers and he'll say, ‘That's all you got?' It kind of upsets you and makes you want to really go after him, but that's what he wants," Ware said. "It's all about a mind game, and he'll play those mind games, and sometimes it's fun playing out there against a quarterback like that."
Especially when he gets sacked, right Von?
But with all the defensive stops last night, this unit knows there's still improvement needed.
"[Rivers] is very crafty in the pocket, so we expected that," said T.J. Ward. "We expected him to slip out of some tackles and get the ball downfield on broken coverages. I think we handled him well for the most part. They're going to make some plays. They're a good team."
Part of "handling" Rivers included two big interceptions - one by Chris Harris Jr. and another by Rahim Moore.
"Our front seven played great,. I think ‘B-Marsh' had a great game today. He was all over the place making tackles," Ward added. "On the back end, we just tried to clean everything up and make plays on the ball when it was in the air. Rahim made a great interception. Chris had his interception. Talib had lockdown coverage as usual. We're just trying to get better."
The Broncos know when they see the Chargers again in San Diego it could be a completely different game. The Chargers had several starters out of the lineup on defense and are playing with a rookie running back.
"We took care of business tonight," Manning said just coming off the field last night, "but we know next time playing these guys will be a different game."
And Pot Roast knows that the defense is going to have to fix that "one series each game where it looks like we don't know what we're doing."
"Hats off to them," Knighton said, adding that this is a play-off team. "Their guys made plays and it's the NFL, but we'll definitely take a ‘W' any day."
Oh yes we will. 6-1 baby!