Welcome to the Bye Week. I will discuss the improbable win that happened in New Orleans and take a look at the stretch run for the Broncos.
New Orleans - Denver came to the Superdome coming off an embarrassing loss to Oakland and desperate for a win before the bye. The Saints were trying to protect their house and trying to keep pace with the Falcons in the NFC South. With that backdrop, New Orleans elected to receive the opening kickoff. Brandon McManus kicked the ball short and the coverage team allowed a return to the NO 39. The defense gave up a mere 12 yards and forced a punt. Jordan Norwood fielded the punt at the 15.
The offense got started with Devontae Booker getting six yards on his first run and more later in the drive and then Trevor Siemian getting chunks of yards passing to Demaryius Thomas, A.J. Derby and Jordan Taylor. Denver capped off the drive with a 14 yard pass to a jumping Taylor. At first the refs ruled him out of bounds, but Gary Kubiak challenged it. At review, Sunshine's body hit the end zone before his foot did. McManus knocked in the XP and the Broncos took a 7-0 lead thanks to the 85 yard drive and taking over seven minutes to do it. New Orelans quickly responded by getting the ball to the DEN 24, but was denied by Darian Stewart's diving interception at the seven. Unfortunately, the offense did nothing with the ball and punted the ball to end the first quarter.
At the start of the second quarter, Drew Brees passed a ball intended for Michael Thomas. Instead of a catch, Bradley Roby knocked the ball away and into the arms of Stewart for his second pick. Stewart moved the ball to the NO 39, giving the offense a chance to increase the score. Denver was only able to gain seven yards and settled for a FG. McManus was money from 50 yards and the Broncos were up 10-0. Punts were exchanged between the teams for the next three series. The Broncos managed to get the ball to the NO 31, but then disaster struck. Siemian passed left and right to Sio Moore for an interception and giving the Saints the ball at their own 38. New Orleans then moved the ball 50 yards in 30 seconds, making a FG to make the score 10-3 at the half.
Denver got the ball for the second half and punted to the NO 10. Most of the time with the distance and the defense, that's normally a good mix. Not so on this day. Brees caught fire and started hitting his receivers down the field including a 37 yard pass to Brandon Cooks to the Denver 3. On the next play, Willie Snead caught a wide open pass for the TD to make the score tied at 10. The offense go the ball and got to the NO 44, but disaster struck again when Kenny Vaccaro picked off Siemian and took the ball to the DEN 38. New Orleans took advantage by scoring a TD in four plays to make the score 17-10 Saints. Denver then responded by driving to the NO 18, but Siemian was sacked to stall the drive. McManus then proceeded to kick the FG attempt wide left. The Saints started moving the ball, but the defense made a huge play by forcing a fumble that was recovered by Stewart at the Denver 45 and returned to the NO 27. The offense finally took advantage by a leaping TD grab by Thomas to tie the score at 17. Denver forced a punt and Norwood returned to the Denver 47. After moving the ball 43 yards, the offense stalled out at the NO 10 and settled for a FG to take the lead 20-17. Denver's D struck again forcing a fumble and recovering the ball at the NO 20. The offense moved a mere two yards and settled for another FG to make the score 23-17 with 2:50 left in the game.
Brees and the Saints offense moved the ball quickly thanks to passes to Brandon Cooks. Cooks then snagged in a ridiculous TD catch with three defenders all over him to tie the game. NO then lined up to kick the XP, but the unthinkable happened. Justin Simmons leaped over the blockers without touching them and blocked the kick. The ball went into the arms of Will Parks. Parks ran the ball back, hugging the sideline for a 75 yard, blocked XP return for two points to make the game 25-23. The refs reviewed the return and it was inconclusive in his eyes so the play stood. New Orleans tried an onside kick, but was recovered by Thomas to secure the win. Denver goes into the bye 7-3 and still in the hunt for division and playoffs.
As for my impressions of this game, it was not their best effort. It took the Saints getting Vinoviched to get the win. I can easily say that I feel for the Saints fans because Denver was Vinoviched in the past. It looked to me like Parks stepped out of bounds, but thanks to small screens, white shoes and a lack of camera views thanks to the game being a "regional" game the Broncos got out of there with a win. The OL was awful with the backs averaging 2.8 YPC and Siemain hit 17 times and six sacks. While I am not impressed with the play of Siemian at times, his toughness can't be overlooked. It seemed like he was hit almost every play or he was on his back repeatedly. There are very few QBs that could be able to take that kind of beating. Sadly the OL is only as good at its worst links. These guys are not in sync and I don't see that getting better in the next six games. I hope they can make changes to the line play during the bye week, but I don't see that happening this season. Look for some major investment next season in building a group that can. Whether it is Siemian or Paxton Lynch behind this line, they are getting killed this season.
The last six games will be quite a gauntlet for these guys and the bye comes at a great time. With Aqub Talib and Derek Wolfe out with injury, the rest for all of the guys will help. Hopefully the bye can help rejuvenate this team and get the big playmakers back to make a run. With three tough games at home that helps affect the division and playoffs and three road games that include a Christmas night game in Arrowhead and two early games at Nashville and Jacksonville, this team has little to no room for error. The next six games are essentially playoff games from here on out. Well, that's all I have for now. Enjoy the week off and cheer for the division to lose. Go Texans, go Bucs for this week!