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Broncos' defense rescues Manning, offense from Black Hole

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But there is a lot of blame to go around among players on offense - and thankfully there is a ton of credit to be shared by players on defense.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It was not the blowout some of us were hoping for.

It wasn't the "clicking-on-all-cylinders" offensive performance many were finally expecting.

It was another hard-fought battle in which the defense saved the day in heroic-like fashion - again.

And even if a win is not a win in Broncos Country, it is in the NFL - making the Broncos one of just three undefeated teams in the AFC and six in the entire league.

If you're not satisfied with the win because Peyton Manning didn't throw a touchdown but did throw two picks, then perhaps you can take some solace in knowing the Broncos' quarterback is with you on that.

"I don't know. It's a good win anytime you win on the road, or in the division," said a very contrite Manning after the game. "We didn't do what we needed to offensively - didn't score enough points, didn't take advantage of some of the red zone opportunities. The turnover before the half cost us some points. We need to do a better job."

Head coach Gary Kubiak said it a little stronger.

"We have to play a hell of a lot better," said the coach.

And perhaps anticipating the media's line of inquiry, Kubiak defended Manning - not for his play necessarily  but for his shared role in the abysmal offensive performance rather than sole responsibility.

We have to play a hell of a lot better. Everything keeps going back to 18 and that's not fair. We have to get better at running the football. We have to get better at protecting Manning.  -Gary Kubiak, head coach

"Everything keeps going back to 18, and that's not fair," Kubiak said, adding that the entire offense - from coaches to players - needs to help the team win on that side of the ball. "The sad thing is that we do some good stuff, but we don't finish anything. We have to get better running the football, we have to get better protecting Manning. ...We're playing hard; we're just not playing very good."

Well, the offense definitely is not, but to focus mostly on its struggles is to downgrade not just the win, but the incredible defensive effort by the Broncos' second coming of the Orange Crush defense.

"They've been tremendous," Kubiak said, noting the Broncos have won two games without scoring an offensive touchdown. "That doesn't happen in the National Football League. Yeah, they gave up some plays ... but they were awesome."

Awesome indeed.

For a fifth week in a row, there was a hero on defense who made a play to seal the win. And for a fifth week in a row, it was a different player.

This time credit goes to cornerback Chris Harris Jr. who bounced back from a not-so-hot Week 4 against the Vikings with a strong statement - this defense can keep doing this.

CHJ Pick Six

"I'm proud of my defense. These guys are playing hard. Everybody is trying to make a play; everybody is itching to make a play," said CHJ, whose 74-yard pick six with just over 7 minutes left in the game put the Broncos out of reach at 16-7. "It just happened to be my day today. Next week, it might be someone else."

Although the Broncos defense went another game without allowing a score in the first quarter, the second quarter caught a few defenders sleeping as Oakland quarterback Derek Carr carved up the Broncos secondary on an 80-yard drive, capped off by an easy touchdown pass to Marcel Reece.

Harris Jr. noted a few halftime "adjustments" that made a difference for the second half.

"Oh yeah, the coaches got on our butts during halftime," the cornerback said, admitting that the defense hadn't been dominating as it practices to do. "We kept giving them little things. We came out hyped in the second half to be dominant, make some plays, get some turnovers - and that's what we did."

Oh yeah, the coaches got on our butts during halftime. We came out hyped in the second half to be dominant ... and that's what we did.   -Chris Harris, Jr. on the defensive turnaround.

Boy, did they.

In the Raiders' opening series of the second half, Von Miller got a strip sack on Carr along with the fumble recovery. Although it wasn't a game-saving sack at the time, the momentum-changer in that play cannot be underestimated.

Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said as much.

"It's definitely a big point in the game," the former Broncos' defensive coordinator admitted.

But Miller's comment on the matter shows why this defense keeps doing this - it's not waiting to back up the offense; it's trying to win the game outright.

"We don't go out there waiting on the offense to do anything, or special teams," Miller said. "We go out there, and we want to make it happen ourselves."

In fact, the Raiders' next two series ended in punts, the first of the two as a three-and-out.

After the Broncos followed that by giving up the ball via a second Charles Woodson interception, the defense held the Raiders to a 40-yard field-goal attempt that turned out to be Sebastian Janikowski's second miss of the day through the uprights.

With a host of penalties, incomplete passes and a sack on the Broncos' next possession, the Raiders got the ball back with nearly 11 minutes on the clock and converted two third downs before Harris Jr. snapped Raiders fans back to reality - they were not going to be able to win this despite effectively disrupting the Broncos' offense all day, which claimed three field goals, six punts and two interceptions on its 11 drives.

"The great thing about those guys when they get their hands on the ball, they make those plays," Kubiak said of the timely interception. "It's those types of things. Chris did it all week. It's just a hell of a job."

We don't panic....we don't panic at all. We ball search, and we fly to the ball.   -T.J. Ward, safety

But it's not unexpected. While fans and sports media keep wondering when these heroic finishes are going to come to an end for the Broncos defense, the players are just wondering when the next opportunity will come.

"We don't panic...we don't panic at all," said safety T.J. Ward who ended the game with six solo tackles and a forced fumble. "We ball search, and we fly to the ball. Everyone is hustling to the ball, trying to make that tackle, trying to get a hand on an assist, and they're ready for anything to happen."

The defense ended the day with four sacks, six QB hits, six passes defensed and two forced fumbles with one fumble recovery.

"We know somebody is going to make a play," Ward said, adding that everyone is racing to the ball to do it. "We prepare. Guys are so pressed to make sure that they're doing their job the right way. ...We play hard."

Miller calls it "fanatical" and after five weeks of this, it certainly must be. And he added that the defense doesn't get frustrated when the offense can't take advantage of the turnovers it creates. Instead the defense just plans to do it again.

"No, I mean it's football. You would like to go out there and score every time you get the ball, but it just doesn't happen like that," Miller said. "We don't get to pointing fingers. We got a lot of guys in here making plays for us, and that's how we've been successful. We are at 5-0. That's the best we can be."

From a record standpoint, it is. But Kubiak, Manning and Demaryius Thomas know the offense cannot keep allowing games to rely on the defense when the big players start coming to town like New England and Green Bay.

"I feel like we've bought in, it's just not as easy as people think," Thomas said about executing the offense, adding that more repetition, more film and players doing their jobs is the key to "getting over the hump" of bad performances.

That's a play I have to make. I've got to make that play. That's one drop I shouldn't have had.   -Demaryius Thomas on his dropped pass in the end zone.

Thomas ended the day with five catches for 55 yards. In spite of some key catches, he also had an interception on him that might have been saved with a little jump ball fight with Woodson (who made a great play on a floating pass) as well as a drop in the end zone and.

"That's a play I have to make. I've got to make that play. That's one drop I shouldn't have had," Thomas said. "It's just the turnovers and the penalties. ...It's just doing our job and getting better week in and week out."

A big part of that has to be figuring out how to install a running game that can contribute more than 43 yards a game. Kubiak acknowledged after the game that the offense didn't really commit to the running game.

"We were moving the ball, throwing the ball because of the way they were playing us defensively," Kubiak said. "They played us a certain way against our three wide receivers that was conducive to running the ball. We just didn't finish and do it well."

While the running game sits dormant and the passing game sputters, one guy on the team still admonishing patience is the guy who saved the game.

"This is how the first five games have been. We've been able to win on defense," Harris Jr. said. "Offense - they're going to start clicking. We just have to keep having faith in them. They're going to get it right."