The Denver Broncos were in desperate need of a win.
With one of the toughest remaining schedules in the NFL and competitive division rivals, the team didn’t have much room for error. To remain in the playoff race, the Broncos had to beat the New Orleans Saints. Somehow. Some way.
Denver did just that in the 25-23 win.
1. Broncos thrive when they’re the underdog
There wasn’t a lot of optimism Denver could pull off this outcome on Sunday, especially on the MHR staff. Even a few of those who did pick the Broncos only did so because they didn’t want to feel “dirty” picking against their team.
Those of us who did predict a loss should have known better.
After today's win, the Broncos are now 8-2 as underdogs the last two years. This team relishes being told, "It can't be done."— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) November 13, 2016
Denver is now 8-2 the last two years when it’s in the underdog role. This team loves it when people say they can’t. It’s not the last time it will happen this season, so it’s something to file away in the last six games.
2. Broncos weren’t caught off guard
When Drew Brees connected with Brandin Cooks for what seemed like the game-winning touchdown with a little over a minute left in the game, had that happened under the previous head coach in Denver, the team would have looked like a deer in the headlights.
The Broncos would have taken a knee and given up.
Yet under Gary Kubiak, the team is never caught off guard, no matter what happens over the course of a game. He prepares his coaches and players for any situation imaginable so they’re ready and know how to respond.
Given how well that blocked extra point was executed by Justin Simmons, is there any doubt Kubiak had the team work on that scenario numerous times in practice? Major kudos to Kubiak and special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis for having the wherewithal and stones to call that play, and also having trust in the players to make it happen.
3. Stewart is a vital piece of the defense
Darian Stewart became the first Broncos defender to get three turnovers since Deltha O’Neal in 2001. He’s the first defender in the NFL to do so this season.
Stewart spearheaded a defense that was able to slow down a potent Saints offense that averaged over 30 points per game coming into Sunday. Yes, Brees still made plays, but that was bound to happen. News flash: That New Orleans offense is really, really good. Is there really an expectation out there that one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history isn’t going to step up and make plays?
Yet despite two costly turnovers from the offense that killed momentum, the Broncos defense still held that scoring machine in check and allowed the team to walk out of the Superdome victorious.
S @darianstewart26 is the 1st Bronco in 15 years (Deltha O'Neal, '01) and the 1st NFL player this year with three takeaways in a game.— Patrick Smyth (@psmyth12) November 13, 2016
Without the effort of Stewart and his cohorts, Denver doesn’t win this game. In the process, Stewart proved how much he means to the defense and should get rewarded with a contract extension today.
4. The offense did enough ... I guess?
The Broncos offense still inspired a lot of head-shaking, but there were some bright spots.
At least the coaches didn’t abandon the running game as they are accustomed to do. At this point, that’s the only way this unit can succeed. There actually was some semblance of balance with the 37 runs compared to 40 passes.
Denver’s offensive line as a whole played one of its best games this season - which says a lot at this point. Matt Paradis, Michael Schofield and Russell Okung all earned top five offensive grades at Pro Football Focus. That must continue. Hopefully the positions of right tackle and left guard get figured out, but it’s unlikely at this point. If the answer at right tackle is Ty Sambrailo, I don’t want to know the question.
Demaryius Thomas also had his best game of the season and stepped up in a major way. He played with serious fire that the offense sorely needed.
Broncos WR @DemaryiusT with his 56th receiving TD since 2011 (reg season and playoffs). No NFL WR has more over that time.— Patrick Smyth (@psmyth12) November 13, 2016
As for Trevor Siemian, one could make the argument he did enough. But that’s not going to cut it the last six games when he starts to face good defenses.
5. The win is nice, but let’s not get carried away
The Broncos needed four turnovers and a blocked extra point returned for two to win this game. One of the worst defenses in the NFL gave Denver’s offense fits. With those four turnovers, the Broncos should have dropped 30 points on New Orelans but failed to do so. What will happen against the Kansas City Chiefs? I cringe at the thought.
Above all, that’s the storyline right now. Yes, the Broncos got the win. A much-needed win. But let’s not pretend all is right with the world and this ship isn’t taking on water after a fluke win.