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Broncos redeem poor first half with complete team effort in second

Things did not look good for the Broncos until the final minutes of the second quarter when Brock Osweiler fired a 35-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders that set up the Broncos' field goal to end the half. But it was enough to spark the team for an inspired second half.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Call it a game of redemption.

For Gary Kubiak to make adjustments.

For Brock Osweiler to show he can lead in the second half.

For Demaryius Thomas to prove he can catch in the clutch (and with one hand if he needs to).

For Brandon McManus to kick when it counted (when it really counted).

For the offensive line to block somebody just long enough.

For the vaunted Broncos defense to live up to its No. 1 hype.

/takes deep breath...

But mostly, for the entire Broncos TEAM to win a big game when the season was on the line.

Von Miller said the obvious, but it was spot on.

"We just needed this win emotionally," said No. 58, who had just three tackles and one QB hit. "Every win is big. We've been through tough times this year, and we just needed it emotionally. We came into the game a little too relaxed, but we kicked it up and got the (win)."

The Broncos literally "kicked" it up as a McManus field goal in overtime put the Broncos up 20-17 before the defense did what it started the season doing - winning the game at the end with aggressive, no-holding-back play.

The Bengals had a chance to go for the win after the Broncos only scored three in OT, but Miller and DeMarcus Ware made sure that didn't happen as the two linebackers created fumble situations in back-to-back plays in which the first should have ended the game following a play review, but refs just couldn't bring themselves to see an obvious fumble.

So the Broncos just did it again, and Ware recovered on the second one to seal the win and end the game.

"Oh yeah, I knew that I had the ball. When I saw that on the ground, I was so close to it and I was like, 'There is no way that somebody is going to take this ball from me,'" Ware said. "It felt good to finish the game that way."

Linebacker Danny Trevathan, who led the defense with eight tackles, noted that his fellow defenders enjoy the pressure of needing to win the game.

"Our offense went out and did our thing, had one little error, but our defense is built to make up for that," said Trevathan. "We like pressure. We enjoy that. We rise to the occasion. I think our defense is one of the best defenses to create turnovers and make plays when needed."

The defense certainly rose to the occasion in the second half after a rather pathetic first-half showing. But Ware said the halftime adjustments were nothing more than a bunch of guys who decided to play better.

"The guys really wanted to get out there and win. This was a big game for us," Ware said. "You can see how they really came out, played and made some big plays. It just felt great."

To say the first half started slow would be a huge understatement. The Bengals got the ball first and kept it for nearly the entire first quarter as the Broncos defense got picked apart by second-year quarterback A.J. McCarron in just his second NFL start.

The former Crimson Tide slinger was 12 for 17 with 119 yards in the first half in which 57 of those were directed toward Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green.

"He played a great game," Chris Harris, Jr. said of McCarron, adding that the young QB has a bright future in the NFL. "Some of those balls, I swear, I was right there. Any other quarterback, I feel like they throw it lower and I can break it up. But he kept throwing the balls high and away, and you've got to attribute that to him on those great balls he was throwing."

Despite getting beat repeatedly in the first half, Harris Jr. kept battling - and eventually won the war.

"You've just got to be confident. I knew last week I had a bad game, and I just wanted to come back, bounce back [against] another Pro Bowl receiver and make plays on [Green,]" Harris Jr. said. "He's a very good receiver - one of the best around the league. For a guy that tall, he has great speed, great hands and it's a tough battle."

The Broncos had been talking all week like this was a playoff game, and they proved in the second half they believed it. But football is often a game of momentum, and the team with it at the end, is usually the one with the win.

Luckily, that was the case Monday night.

On that one play he actually read my route. I just threw my hand up and kept running. I was able to spark the crowd and spark the team.  -Emmanuel Sanders on his 35-yard first-down catch to mark his second 1,000-yard season.

While the defense was struggling in the first half, the offense wasn't helping anything as the Broncos had the ball for a mere eight minutes on only three drives - the first two of which combined for a net gain of 24 yards.

But thanks to a huge lift from Emmanuel Sanders on a 35-yard first down catch to set up a 23-yard chip shot, the Broncos took some mojo into the locker room at half.

"Obviously, the whole game they were reading the quarterback and on that one play he actually read my route. I just threw my hand up and kept running. It felt good to go out and make a play," Sanders said, who went over the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season. "I was able to spark the crowd and spark the team."

It was just three points, and the Broncos were still down 14-3, but it was all they needed.

Getting the ball to start the second half, the offense made the most of it, going no-huddle for 81 yards on 11 plays and gaining five first downs before Sanders scored on an eight-yard strike from Brock Osweiler.

Suddenly, the crowd and the team seemed poised for a big comeback.

"Our conversation at halftime was to try to pick up the tempo a little bit, show them a look that we have not shown on tape," Osweiler said about the first drive of the third quarter. "At the same time, coach really preached all week long, 'focus for 60 minutes. One play at a time. Whether that play is good, bad or ugly, move on to the next play and keep your focus there.' That's truly what this football team did tonight."

It wasn't an electric comeback by any stretch, but it was efficient. The following three drives ended in punts, but the defense stepped up in the second half too and prevented the Bengals from even attempting to pull away.

McCarron, who had looked like a seasoned pro in the first half, was unable to do much of anything the second, and the first four drives ended in punts, three of which were three-and-outs.

"We loaded everybody in the box, challenged them to throw the ball and that's how we were able to shut down the run. That's what we do...we just find a way to win," Harris Jr. said. "That was a playoff game today. In the playoffs, you've just got to figure out the way to win."

Still down 14-10, the Broncos took the lead with almost 12 minutes to go thanks to a 39-yard juke-and-go to the end zone from C.J. Anderson.

"I've said it before, but it takes four quarters to beat us, and we learned last week it takes four quarters to beat another team," Anderson said after the game. "We have to focus for all 60 minutes and all three phases of the game."

It definitely took all three phases on Monday night in the final minutes as the Broncos' offense needed the defense to bail it out after a fumble - which it did - then special teams needed to get a field goal to win - which it didn't.

But if this team has learned anything this season, it is just how quickly a game can switch to your favor.

Although a shanked 45-yard field goal sent the game into overtime, McManus took advantage of a second chance in the first drive of OT and put the Broncos up 20-17 via a 37-yarder through the uprights.

In my 24 years on this earth, I don't think I've ever kicked a ball like that in my life. I wanted a chance to redeem myself.   -Brandon McManus, kicker.

"In my 24 years on this earth, I don't think I've ever kicked a ball like that in my life," McManus said of his missed field goal attempt. "I wanted a chance to redeem myself, obviously. I wasn't nervous out there for the second one. I was just mad at myself for such a poor kick on the one before that."

With a second win in overtime, Osweiler gets the credit for rallying the offense when it counted, and that growth is not lost on Gary Kubiak.

"If you're going to be a good player in this league, you have to block out noise. That's just part of it. He's done a great job of that. I think the team has done a great job of that and rallied behind him," Kubiak said, praising Osweiler's poise and protection of the football. "Probably no bigger play than the third-and-10 in overtime that he makes; it was one hell of a play that he makes off schedule. Very proud of him, but his teammates have really helped him out and done a good job."

No doubt showing poise like a true pro, Osweiler pointed out that to be a playoff-bound team the Broncos are going to have to be able to roll with the good and the bad.

There are going to be good plays and bad plays. But that's football. When something happens, we come together as an offense, focus on the next play and talk about how we're going to execute the next time.   -Brock Osweiler

"In a given football game, there are going to be good plays, there are going to be bad plays. There are going to be touchdowns. Hopefully there's not too many turnovers, but that's football," said Osweiler, who finished the day 27 of 39 for 277 yards and 100.3 quarterback rating. "When something like that happens, we come together as an offense ... focus on the next play and how we're going to execute the next time that we're out on the field."

That's something Thomas certainly showed last night. After struggling in recent games with multiple drops, DT came down with a huge one-handed grab on third down to keep a potential game-winning drive alive.

"It was third down, and we needed it," said Thomas, who ended the night with seven catches for 59 yards. It was kind of in field goal but not field goal range, and I just had to do whatever I had to do to make plays."

After the game, Kubiak noted he's not bothered by the team playing good in just one half, but it is improvement to have the good one be at the end of the game.

"It actually excites me to watch what took place in the first half last week and what took place in the second half this week because that's what this league is about at the end - finding it all," Kubiak said. "They know. They know what they're capable of. We're going to keep working on the negatives ...but we feel very confident in the direction we're headed."

In his post-game victory speech, Kubiak was a little more succinct: "How 'bout that f-ing second half?"