Gary Kubiak didn’t like his decision to settle for a field goal late in the game to put the Broncos up only by six, forcing the defense to make another big stop to save a win.
"I’ll be honest with you, I really didn’t like my decision. I know that’s crazy, we won the game," Kubiak said, adding the offense had been struggling "big time" on short yardage. "I didn’t feel good about what we were doing offensively. I told the defense, ‘I put you in a tough position, but that’s what you’re made of.’ We should stay on the field right there. We should find a way to stay on the field."
Although the offense didn't stay on the field to score, the defense did it for them.
Sprinting almost untouched around the corner, Von Miller dove for Andrew Luck and found some extra luck as he stripped the ball while understudy Shane Ray scooped it up and ran in for the defense’s second touchdown of the game.
"It’s time to close. They’ve got to score. They don’t have timeouts. We’re going to rush," Miller said after the game that he once again engineered to a win for the Broncos, thanks to a Super Bowl-like heads-up play. "I got the best secondary in the National Football League behind me, and I just put my ears down and just rushed."
Broncos LB @Millerlite40's last 4 games, inc. playoffs: 9 sacks, 1 INT, 3 forced fumbles, 10 QB hits, 4 TFLs. pic.twitter.com/91tQyo6EVw— Patrick Smyth (@psmyth12) September 19, 2016
Miller, who had never sacked Luck prior to Sunday, ended up with three on the day.
Ray, who had not yet scored an NFL touchdown, got his first in a big way.
"We work together. It’s our job to either give the offense the ball back or of course score ourselves," Ray said, who finished the day with only one tackle but a very big touchdown. "We take advantage of every opportunity. We’re well coached on that and we practice it every day. I’m just glad I got the opportunity to use my coaching and go help my team out."
Miller said he joked with Ray after the play that the touchdown didn’t count.
"I did see Shane and I was like: ‘Man, Shane, they took away a touchdown?’ And he was like [inaudible]," Miller joked. "With Shane, [he’s] like a little brother to me. Even when it’s good, I just try to find a way to poke at him to get him going even more. That was a great job, a phenomenal job today, but don’t tell him I said that."
One guy who definitely did not need anyone to tell him what a phenomenal job Ray, Miller and the rest of the defense did was quarterback Trevor Siemian.
"It’s a special group we got there, no doubt," said the quarterback with now two starts and two wins under his belt – mostly thanks to the defense.
And if you ask the defense, it didn’t mind Kubiak’s challenge one bit.
"That just shows his confidence in us," said safety T.J. Ward. "It shows his confidence in what we can do, especially with no timeouts left. The odds were heavily stacked against the Colts."
The Miller-Ray strip-sack and touchdown – something I am single-handedly starting to call "getting Cam’d" – was the second of two very important scores from the Denver defense.
Heading into the fourth quarter, the Broncos offense had managed one touchdown and three field goals to be up 16-13 over the Colts. But with the Colts having just capped off a rather easy march into the end zone for a third-quarter touchdown, and the Broncos’ offense stalling in the red zone again, the three-point lead was anything but comfortable.
Enter Aqib Talib and the No Fly Zone.
A couple of incomplete passes from Luck to T.Y. Hilton followed by a short pass to Ferguson for no gain had the Colts facing third and long. The defensive line got great pressure on Luck, so Talib just waited to pounce.
No. 21 broke in front of the ball to steal the pass, break a few tackles and then easily find the end zone for his ninth career pick-six to give the Broncos a more comfortable lead, 23-13.
"I kind of just sat down in my zone with anticipating seven stop, and that’s what he ran," Talib said after the game. "I was able to make the play, make a guy miss and go home."
"Ask my coach: When I get an interception in practice, I go score on it. Practice makes perfect." - Aqib Talibhttps://t.co/OYdm5BAwjI— Broncos TV (@BroncosTV) September 19, 2016
Talib treats it like just another play because for him it was nothing more than an extension of what he tries to do every day, game or not.
"I practice it," he said. "Ask my coach – when I get an interception in practice, I go score on it. Practice makes perfect."
So whether Kubiak was comfortable with his decision or not, the defense was always planning to win the game.
"You can see that our team has a lot of heart," Chris Harris Jr. said. "If the game’s on the line on defense, you can almost guarantee that we’re going to finish the game and win it for us. We like that."
Harris Jr. pointed out that the defense grew accustomed to that position last season, and really, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
"We like winning on defense," Harris Jr. added. "Kubiak said ‘D-line, you stop the run, we have playmakers, we have a chance to get picks.’ That’s exactly what happened."
The defensive stats were beautiful by the end, especially when compared to previous meetings with Luck. The Broncos sacked Luck five times, hurried him 11, caused a fumble that led to a defensive touchdown and got another TD off an interception. It ended up being a good ol’ ass-kicking on that side of the ball as Luck was 21/40 for 197 yards but just one touchdown and a passer rating of 52.5 percent. The Colts’ running game was equally stymied with just 83 yards total.
"We knew that it was going to be a dog fight, and we knew that we had to play great defense today," Chris Harris Jr. said. "We wanted to come out and make sure that we’re light years than we were against the Panthers and I think we were today."
As importantly, the Broncos defense was way ahead of how it played against Luck and his Colts the past two meetings – regular season last year and playoffs a few months before.
"We stuck to our game plan and did what we do today against Luck, and we didn’t change anything up. We changed some things up last year and it was terrible," Talib said. "We went out there and played ‘Bronco D’ today and showed that he doesn’t have our number."
Having stopped two elite quarterbacks two weeks in a row this season – which underscores what the defense did to three elite quarterbacks in the playoffs a few months ago – Brandon Marshall believes there is no doubt analysts are sleeping on the Broncos’ D.
"Everybody’s sleeping on this defense. I’m pretty sure we woke them up today," said the inside linebacker who had four tackles and one deflected pass. "We scored two touchdowns on defense. I think Luck had 150 yards passing and he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league. They’re definitely sleeping on us."
What a work day! Love my squad! #wardboy #bossup #noflyzone #broncoscountry pic.twitter.com/mfdNXl7CLO— T.J. Ward (@BossWard43) September 19, 2016
Two touchdowns or not, the defenders still know there’s plenty of room for improvement. Luck nearly got the better of the Orange Crush 2.0 group, which he showed on two drives that moved down the field with relative ease and included a 21-yard run on 3rd-and 20.
"I mean the 3rd-and-20 and he scrambled for 20 yards, that’s frustrating," Miller acknowledged. "We’ve got all the rushers in the world. We’ve got all the schemes. We’ve got all the calls, and for him to run for 32, that’s definitely frustrating. To come out there in the second half and let them drive down the field and score a touchdown, that’s definitely frustrating."
But the key was for the defense to not let it get in their heads. And it didn’t.
"We’ve got a resilient team. We play against great teams every single week. They’re going to make plays," No. 58 said. "We just keep on fighting and take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves."
With the Broncos’ intense pass rush and the dominating secondary, Darian Stewart pointed out that those opportunities are always going to present themselves.
"That’s always our goal. Just come out and just try to dominate," Stewart said. "Luck gave us a problem today. He’s hell when he’s running the ball, so we just tried to contain him as much as we could."
As a wise man said, "We're on to Cincinnati." Brace yourself for a week of Les Nessman and Herb Tarlek references.— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) September 19, 2016
Next week’s matchup in Cincinnati will be no less of a challenge for the Broncos, and both the offense and defense are aware of that.
It was the Broncos’ defense last season in Week 16 that ended the Bengals-Broncos matchup with a ‘W’ in overtime thanks to a fumble recovery by DeMarcus Ware on a bad snap that allowed the Broncos to secure the lead they gained from a Brandon McManus field goal in OT.
The Broncos defense had been terrible the first half of that game, with the Bengals outgaining the Broncos 204 yards to 89. But with most of the fourth quarter to go, the Broncos D had turned the tide, holding Bengals backup quarterback A.J. McCarron to just 4-for-6 for 15 yards.
Coming off a tough loss to rival Steelers yesterday, the Bengals will be looking for blood at home.
The Broncos need to be ready.
"They’re a very good team," said Todd Davis. "We’ve played them the last couple years and they’ve always been a challenge for us, so this week we’ve got to come ready to work."
And the offense knows that better than anybody.
"We stand here 2-0, what more can we ask for?" said Emmanuel Sanders, who caught three passes for 39 yards and took a huge hit to the stomach in the process. "We’re ready to go on the road versus Cincinnati, a great opponent and try to make it 3-0."