Broncos show fans that defense can be fun to watch, too
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Broncos fans are adjusting from the old aerial fireworks show and realizing that points are indeed precious in the NFL and that defense is pretty fun to watch, too.
Even with Peyton Manning off to his worst start since his rookie season, on pace for fewer touchdown passes and more sacks than ever, the Broncos (4-0) are atop their AFC West perch as usual.
And even though they’re still sputtering and trying to figure out the pistol formation as Manning and Gary Kubiak continue hammering out a hybrid offense, the Broncos keep coming through in the clutch.
Manning has maneuvered the Broncos into the end zone or field goal range in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter in all four games so far, and Denver’s defense has come up with a key takeaway in the closing minutes every week.
On Sunday, Manning drove the Broncos to the tie-breaking field goal with 1:51 left and then turned things over to the defense, which collected its league-leading 18th sack and 11th takeaway to seal a 23-20 win over Minnesota.
”I don’t even think of it as close games anymore, that’s just how we play,” said Von Miller, who recovered Teddy Bridgewater’s fumble at midfield with 29 seconds left. ”It’s just how football is. You stop thinking about the days when we would put up 40 and 50 (points) on teams. This is the National Football League and we’re playing tough teams every week.”
Wade Phillips’ attacking defense has made big plays at key moments in every game:
-Safety Darian Stewart picked off Joe Flacco’s pass in the end zone in the closing seconds to preserve a 19-13 win over the Ravens.
-Cornerback Bradley Roby returned a fumble for a 21-yard TD with 27 seconds left at Kansas City to give Denver a 31-24 win over the Chiefs.
-Safety David Bruton Jr.’s interception with 3:37 left and the Broncos clinging to a five-point lead gave Manning the ball back and his insurance touchdown toss gave Denver a 24-12 win at Detroit.
-T.J. Ward’s sack-strip of Teddy Bridgewater with 29 seconds left sealed Denver’s win over the Vikings.
”We’re not really finding ways to win,” Ward said. ”We’re making ways to win.”
The Broncos are going down to the final whistle ”kicking and screaming,” exactly what GM John Elway complained they didn’t do under former coach John Fox, whose teams were outscored 150-66 in their final game in the playoffs during Fox’s four years in Denver.
”The thing that I love about the football team is I think it has the belief that it’s going to find a way,” Kubiak said.
Although Manning threw two interceptions, the Broncos did get their ground game going when Ronnie Hillman hit the crease for a 72-yard touchdown run. Manning also threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Owen Daniels on fourth-and-goal when he faked a hand-off to Hillman, then hit his wide open tight end.
”I’m telling you, I’d rather throw it in between two guys probably than have that wide open one,” Manning said. ”You see it too many times, just don’t miss a layup, as they say. I think it’s all on the receiver as well because it’s an easy one to lose your concentration on.”
Daniels now has two TD catches, one more than Pro Bowl receiver Demaryius Thomas, who signed a five-year, $70 million deal last summer.
Thomas shrugged off the dip in his stats and when asked about not blowing out teams like they used to, he said, ”All I really care about is winning.”
Notes: Miller, who’s been fined $11,567 by the NFL for unsportsmanlike conduct for his rendition of a Key & Peele comedy skit during a sack dance earlier this season, did the three-hip-pumps dance Sunday when he came out of the tunnel for pregame introductions. He didn’t celebrate his fourth-quarter sack of Bridgewater with the same dance, however. ”Them pumps are expensive,” said Miller, adding he was saving the celebration for a ”big-time sack.” Asked about the sack dance, Kubiak said, ”Yes, we have talked about that. We need to find a new one.” … Kubiak said Thomas (neck) was sore Monday but ”he’s fine.” … DE Derek Wolfe returned from his four-game drug suspension. … Kubiak said he thinks of Hillman and C.J. Anderson ”both as starters” and that they’ll split snaps.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton