If there has been a consistent criticism of Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak, it's been the inability of his Broncos to adjust at halftime. In the previous three weeks before Monday Night's overtime thriller, Kubiak's Broncos failed to score a single second-half point. In two of those games, a dominant first half was wiped away by an inept second half resulting in a Broncos loss.
The Broncos reversed that script on Monday Night Football in playoff-clinching, season-saving fashion.
Defense zones out
AJ McCarron started the game looking like a seasoned pro after leading the Bengals no two long touchdown drives. He was able to make accurate throws against Denver's secondary's man coverage; the Broncos realized it and adjusted.
"They came up with some different blitzes and tried to disguise different coverages," McCarron said of the Broncos' second half. "They weren't playing the same in the first half. They were playing a lot more man (early on) and we were capitalizing on it."
Chris Harris on 2nd half change: "We loaded the box, forced them to throw the ball outside & we had to shut down the run. That was the key."— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) December 29, 2015
Offense speeds up
The biggest shift offensively was the re-emergence of the no-huddle, an asset that was prevalent when Peyton Manning was the starting quarterback.
Denver went to it late in the second quarter leading to their first points. It appeared again in the third and fourth quarters with more success.
"It caught them off guard a lot," running back C.J. Anderson. "That's not a Kubiak-style offense that they're used to seeing. We kind of went back into what we've done in previous years and good thing we all knew it."
"Well, we had no possessions in the first half, you know?" Kubiak said. "So we have to do something, so let's just go to two minute [offense]. I felt they played really well. And then once we got into it, let's stay with it, even though we got the lead. [I'm] just impressed with how Brock handled the group."
I'm just impressed that, down 14-0, the Broncos did not go quietly into that postseason-less night and made the right adjustments to save their season.
Broncos gain much-needed confidence along with playoff berth in defeat of Bengals - USA Today
When the Denver Broncos trudged into their locker room trailing the Cincinnati Bengals 14-3 Monday night, it was silent. But the quiet lasted for just a moment before the gravity of the situation suddenly hit.
One by one, team leaders started speaking. Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, safety T.J. Ward and cornerbacks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib — all with the same urgent message: the Broncos’ season was on the brink, and they knew it.
"We've got to make this playoffs. We're not playing like ourselves. Get back to playing Denver Broncos defense. Get back to fighting. We're not fighting," Ward said after the game, rehashing the halftime scene.
"We are not a playoff team right now, and we came out and played like we are not a playoff team that first half. The second half, we played like a championship-caliber team, like we played most of the season."
In comeback win, Broncos show what 'kicking and screaming' is all about
This is what the team was built for. This is what John Elway wanted when he said he desired a team that, if it went down, would do so "kicking and screaming." Those words hang over the 2015 Broncos like low clouds on a snowy night. But against three of the best teams the Broncos have seen this year, they've lived up to them.
Broncos come back 'kicking and screaming'
Was it pretty? Heck no. But it was a character-defining win for Denver when it needed most.
Broncos 20, Bengals 17 (OT): Three keys, unlocked - DenverBroncos.com
Stay balanced on offense. Although the Broncos eventually went heavy with three-wide receiver, no-huddle looks, they were able to run out of this package, particularly in the fourth quarter, when C.J. Anderson's 39-yard burst to the left side gave the Broncos their first lead of the game.
Brandon McManus says he's never kicked a football 'like that'
Some kicking 101, for the uninitiated: A kicker is supposed to lock his ankle and keep his toe down when striking the ball. Pick the toe up too quickly, and the result is, well, what McManus nearly blasted to the visitors’ tunnel. "I didn’t point my toe down at all," he said. "My toes popped up, and if your toes pop up, it’ll hit the side panel of the ball and that’s why it went so far left."
Broncos offensive line deserves some credit for comeback vs. Bengals | Mile High Sports
The Broncos comeback against Cincinnati had much to do with improved play of the offensive line in the second half, though few people were talking about it.
Denver Broncos, Brock Osweiler block out the noise in overtime win - Denver Broncos Blog- ESPN
There is that whole "you have to play 60 minutes" thing. Week after week, the Broncos have used one half of great football to overcome a mediocre half and powered through some hard-earned victories.
Kubiak's postgame speech: "How about that [expletive] 2nd half?!"
Head Coach Gary Kubiak addresses the team following the Broncos 20-17 victory over the Bengals on Monday night.
Sunday has 11 games with playoff implications | ProFootballTalk
We basically know which teams are in the playoffs. Here are 11 games with playoff implications in Week 17.
Ware recovers fumble to seal Broncos' 20-17 win over Bengals
"Felt great to finish the game that way," Ware said. "We thought we were going to finish it with the field goal but at the end of the game, it's all about that win."
Week 16: Castrol EDGE Clutch Performer nominees - NFL Videos
DeMarcus Ware is a candidate for his game-winning fumble recovery in overtime.
10-year-old becomes Broncos' Country Hero
When the Denver Broncos hosted the Cincinnati Bengals for Monday Night Football, there was one hero on the field who is not in the starting lineup.
Brock Osweiler-AJ McCarron highlights - NFL Videos
Brock Osweiler and AJ McCarron squared off on Monday night in a battle of young signal callers thrust into a starting role this season. Take a look at the highs and lows of each quarterback's performance.
Brock Talks: 'It's not how you start, it's how you finish'
"It says a lot about our team," Osweiler said. "We're able to win football games in many different ways. Tonight, obviously the first half didn't go the way that we wanted it to, but that's football. Sometimes you're going to have tough first halves. I think what it shows is that this team didn't blink. We didn't flinch. We regrouped at halftime, we came together as a team and we got the job done in the second half."
Broncos defeat Bengals, clinch playoff spot
"He's been playing his butt off,'' Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders said of Osweiler. "I try not to get into any quarterback controversy. He played really well today. Made some big-time throws. We expected it from him. I know the Broncos are excited they've got a quarterback of the future. Got to keep it rolling. Right now our focus is on San Diego. Hopefully clinching a first-round bye."
Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning deserved a better ending - NFL
Peyton Manning's stall was stripped bare in the far corner of the Denver Broncos' locker room, a place of considerable Monday night merriment, when tight end Owen Daniels stood nearby and considered the one conspicuous hole in an otherwise special event. The Broncos had locked down a playoff berth in their overtime victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, and yet something else was virtually clinched in the process: The fact that Peyton Manning won't be the quarterback determining whether Denver advances to the Super Bowl.