The Denver Broncos match-up against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football wasn’t just another regular season game. It was a gridiron battle that held the keys to all the doors for a Broncos team who desperately needed to make a big splash with a victory after letting the last two games slip away.
What was on the line? Everything. A chance to earn a fifth straight AFC West title, the opportunity at a first-round bye (even the #1 seed) and at the very least, a secured spot in the playoffs. It wasn't ever going to be easy and that clearly showed, with it taking overtime to decide the fate of these two teams. When the dust was settled, the Broncos emerged victorious by the score of 20-17, defeating a Cincinatti Bengals team who had not lost in 29 games when up eight or more points at the half.
It wasn't pretty by any means, but the Denver Broncos are playoff-bound. The team showed a lot of guts and played inspired football in the second half to overcome what appeared to be insurmountable odds. A huge credit and a big Mile High Salute to the players and coaching staff for doing what was necessary in order to secure victory in one of the most exciting football games the Broncos have played in recent memory.
For now, lets all take a deep breath and bask in the glory of this momentous victory. Here are my takes from the game:
- The Broncos offense was on the field for less than nine minutes in the first half. When they were on the field, their production was stagnant to say the least. Overall, the passing efficiency was ho-hum and the running game was non-existent. Through the first thirty minutes of play, they accumulated less than 100 yards total as a unit and registered just five first downs.
- That all changed in the second half and the team was able to put together two touchdown drives and a game winning field goal drive in overtime that notched 17 of the teams 20 points. By game's end, the Broncos nearly tripled their first half production and put up 390 yards of offense and 22 first downs.
- One of the biggest questions I have had in my head all season long was why the team has consistently felt the need to use Ronnie Hillman on rushing plays on the interior. He had a few good plays, but far too often fails to break tackles after initial contact and is not the back you want carrying the load on the inside. C.J. Anderson put up a much better performance and his 39 yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter helped ignite the Broncos to victory. From now on, I hope the coaching staff realizes that Anderson (despite his late fumble) is the best back on the roster and uses him accordingly.
- After Khalil Mack obliterated Michael Schofield three weeks ago, Broncos Head Coach Gary Kubiak stated that Michael Schofield "has a bright future in the NFL." Alas, even the most casual football fan on the planet realizes that couldn’t be further than the truth and his play on the field against the Bengals proved that.Schofield was in poor form again tonight, allowing multiple sacks and getting little push in the running game. If the Broncos had any quality depth on the offensive line, a change would have already been made, but since they don't fans will have to continue to endure his frustrating performance the rest of the season. Undoubtedly, the Broncos will plug 2015 second-round pick Ty Sambrailo in at right tackle next season and Schofield will be relegated to bench duty. In my opinion, he just doesn't have what it takes to be a starter in the NFL.
- After an inconsistent first half, quarterback Brock Osweiler turned up his level of play in the second half when the Broncos upped their tempo and entered a no huddle offense. Moreover, he showed poise and precision from the pocket. He ended the game going 27/39 for 299 yards and a touchdown pass. There were several mistakes he made, including a few misses on some deep passes which are lacking touch, but overall, his performance tonight was much better than what we have witnessed by him in the second half in his six starts. Kudos to Osweiler for playing hurt and helping this team earn a victory.
- After being shredded in the first half for over two hundred yards on the ground and though the air, the Broncos defense tightened up in the second half and played lights out allowing only 90 yards the remainder of the game.
- How about that Denver D? "We're grown men," Danny Trevathan said after the game. "We wanted to take it upon ourselves to not let that happen again. We were tired of losing."
- The one big weakness the Broncos have on defense is certainly their depth at safety. Josh Bush was a liability during the game in coverage and missed several tackles after replacing T.J. Ward who left action due to an ankle injury. Additionally, Shiloh Keo is most certainly nothing more than a special teams player and having him even play limited snaps on defense is concerning. It is without question that the injury to Ward, as well as David Bruton and Omar Bolden certainly didn't help matters either. Moving forward, the Broncos would be wise to invest in a long-term option at safety this off-season, preferably through the draft to bolster that part of the team.
- This off-season, the Broncos will likely have to decide on only one of their two impressive defensive ends — Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson. In regard to tonight’s affair, Wolfe looked far more impressive on the defensive line, especially in the second half of the game where he recorded a sack and made several big plays in the running game. His ability to set the edge and dominate against the run is one of the best in the league and his performance this season has been tremendous.
- One of the underrated performers on defense was defensive end Vance Walker, who had a few stuffs and a big sack late in the game to help bring some much needed energy to the defense. He isn't an all-world player by any means, but he has shown his worth as a valuable defender in a rotation and most certainly will be a part of the teams plans next season as well.
- Britton Colquitt and Brandon McManus seem to struggle with being consistent. Colquitt pinned three punts inside the twenty, but the other two were absolutely horrendous and gave the Bengals good field position. As for McManus, he seems to be hitting a slump late in the season, which is very worrisome. After missing the game winning field goal at the end of regulation, he redeemed himself by connecting with a 37 yard attempt to win in overtime. Unfortunately, McManus has missed a handful of attempts over the past several games and has not shown the same promise he did from long distance earlier in the season. Hopefully that is something he can correct soon.
Hart's Quick Hits
- Danny Trevathan was all over the field in tonight and made a lot of high quality plays. The Kentucky product registered 8 solo tackles and 4 assists which led all players for either team. It will be interesting to see if the Broncos make an attempt to retain him in the off-season, but they may opt to use an RFA tender on Brandon Marshall instead and let Trevathan walk in Free Agency.
- With 4 catches for 67 yards and a touchdown, Emmanuel Sanders secured his second consecutive 1,000 yard season. Don't forget Demaryius Thomas, who had some big time caches in tonight's contest and was clutch when it mattered most.
- The Bengals were able to convert 10/17 third down attempts, whereas the Broncos struggled immensely and were just 4/11.
- Both teams had 22 first downs, but the momentum in that regard switched at halftime. In the first half, the Bengals had 16 and the Broncos only had 5. As you can see, Denver's offense was much better in the second half at moving the ball down the field and their defense was able to make the adjustments necessary to stop the Bengals' offense.
- Each team had a fumble that resulted in a turnover, but DeMarcus Ware's fumble recovery in overtime is what sealed Denver's victory.
- The Bengals dominated the time of possession in the first half by a two-thirds margin, and ended up having ten more total minutes of ball control over the course of the game.
What were your instant reactions to Monday's win? Let us know in the comments.