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Broncos Saints recap: Game balls for Darian Stewart, Demaryius Thomas and two special rookies

When the Denver Broncos win, the Mile High Report staff hand out the game balls for the remarkable performances in the game.

NFL: Denver Broncos at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos won in a wild once-in-a-lifetime kind of way against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. The game should not have been as close as it was with the defense coming up with four turnovers. However, the offense was only able to convert those turnovers in 13 points keeping the game well in hand for future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees to mount a comeback.

And comeback he did, not once, but twice. Somehow, the Broncos in miraculous fashion snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Such an emotional game will have plenty of game ball opportunities. Here’s ours.

Darian Stewart

Stewart is the first Broncos defender since Deltha O’Neal in 2001 with three takeaways. Denver’s safety captained a defense that created four turnovers and slowed down a high-powered offensive machine. The defense held the Saints to 23 points, well under the 30+ they averaged coming into the game. Without Stewart and the defense, the Broncos don’t win this game. Stewart is a vital piece of the No Fly Zone, that defense and locker room. If there’s any doubt John Elway has to re-sign Stewart, it’s now vanished. - Ian St. Clair

Jordan Taylor

Jordan Taylor's two catches in the opening drive were, most would call, instrumental in breaking the Broncos' reputation for appalling opening drives where they seem incapable of stringing together first downs. The first catch was in a vulnerable spot in NO's coverage down the right seam. The second was a rather acrobatic catch in the end zone, which was almost ruled an incomplete pass as Jairus Byrd briefly dislodged it. Taylor gripped that ball like his life depended on it, and retained possession. Finally, an opening drive that didn't make us cringe. - Yvonne Hew

Justin Simmons

Justin Simmons had been having a relatively uneventful game - 3 total tackles (1 on special teams) on 5 defensive snaps and 18 special teams snaps - before he made a game-saving play. He timed his leap perfectly to clear the Saints long-snapper and land in the backfield in perfect position to block what would have been the go ahead extra point. He then blocked for fellow rookie safety, Will Parks who returned the blocked PAT 75 yards for 2 points. Justin needed every inch of his 40" vertical leap (one of the best at the 2016 combine) to make it over, but that was a great play by the rookie with a small assist from Jared Crick (who is allowed to push down on the top of the long-snapper as long as he doesn't pull him forward - odd rules, but they are the rules).

Justin Simmons gets my game ball for making the play that saved the game, because I had little confidence in the offense' ability to move down the field to get into field goal position with 1:22 left to play and one timeout. - Joe Mahoney

Will Parks

I’ll follow Joe’s game ball up with the second part to the game-clinching play. Will Parks will pay attention to where the sideline is next time, but he wasn’t going to be denied this incredible moment. - Tim Lynch

Officiating Crew

My game ball goes to the crew that reviews plays for the NFL. They did a great job not being able to tell if Will Parks white shoe was out of bounds, or if it just blended in to the sidelines. - Adam Malnati

Demaryius Thomas

In a thrilling Broncos victory I think we would all like to give a game ball to the shoes of safety Will Parks. Given that we must actually give a game ball to a real human being, I'll have to hand my game ball to Demaryius Thomas.

Thomas had one of his biggest games of the year, filling up the stat sheet with 8 catches for 87 yards and a fourth quarter touchdown. While the numbers are impressive, they do not do justice to his real impact on the field. Thomas made several tough catches on balls that were thrown behind him or above their intended target. A few of these catches may have saved the Broncos from turnovers as many of these off target balls were thrown into tight coverage.

He showed off his strong hands on several occasions making big plays when he needed to, extending drives and giving this offense glimpses of productivity. In the fourth quarter, the Broncos trailed 10-17 and had the ball on the 2-yard line for a huge 3rd and goal. Thomas ran a fade route to the left corner of the end zone and rose above the defender Delvin Breaux to secure a jump ball and allowing the Broncos to tie the game with 9:27 left in the game. Thomas has been battling through a very painful hip injury all season, he has been a warrior for this team and it is great to see him have a big game like he did on Sunday afternoon. Great game DT! - Derek Ahrnsbrak

Shaquil Barrett

Shaquil Barrett made an impact in this game. He had a great tackle for loss against the run, one sack, and one solid quarterback hit. Why is this worthy of a game ball? Because he did all of this in only 10 snaps. His main competition (Shane Ray) had almost double the snaps and the only thing noteworthy about his game was him getting a quarterback hit in. Barrett is still one of the best young unheralded players in a very talented defense for the Broncos. - Sadaraine

Jared Crick

Besides the photo below of Jared Crick LEGALLY holding two linemen heads down, with one arm, wow, he also scored out a strong 80.6 from PFF, making him the fifth best defensive player. Even without strong play yesterday, a big step up for him, holding the guys down for Simmons to leap over would be enough for my game ball. Without him (with a small assist from Adam Gotsis), we lose. He's my unsung hero. - Julie Dixon

Broncos Defense

Last week the Raiders ran 218 yards on the Broncos. The Saints could muster just 80 (despite getting 248 a week ago) on this Broncos defense Sunday. Last week the Broncos had 0 takeaways. This week, it had four. Last week special teams was responsible for losing 30+ yards by running the ball out of the end zone on kick-offs. This week, not only did players kneel in the end zone, two special teams players won the game. But more important than any one statistic is that this defense came out on fire, ready for one of the best offenses in the NFL and ready to fight to the end – the very end – to get the win.

Several individual defenders deserve their own game balls, but so does the entire unit for defining “grinding” in every way on Sunday. There is much room for improvement as Drew Brees torched coverage multiple times, completing 21 of 29 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns. But many of those were perfect throws into great coverage that would have been incomplete by lesser quarterbacks or dropped passes by lesser receivers.

The Broncos defense bounced back in a big way and deserves credit for not just keeping the team in the game but making sure it would go into the bye with momentum from a big win. - Laurie Lattimore-Volkmann

Who gets your game ball?