The revival of running back C.J. Anderson might be just what the Denver Broncos need to reestablish themselves as one of the Super Bowl favorites.
Forget the quarterback “controversy” between the emerging Brock Osweiler and an injured Peyton Manning. The Broncos can make a deep playoff run regardless of who is under center, provided Anderson’s builds on the breakout performance he produced during Denver’s overtime win over the previously undefeated New England Patriots on Sunday night.
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Anderson—who made the Pro Bowl after rushing for almost 800 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns over the final eight games of last season—finally broke out of his season-long slump in Week 12, carrying 15 times for 113 yards and two scores, including the game-winner.
According to Anderson, Osweiler called an audible on the final play. Needing just one yard on third down, the young quarterback checked out of the first play and went to the second, a toss to the left—giving Anderson an opportunity to get outside and use his balance and agility to attack the Patriots on a snow-covered field.
“Brock changed it. I said, ‘Man, this has a chance,’” Anderson said, via the team’s official site. “And as I got a toss–and I just saw [left tackle] Ryan [Harris] deep for me–and I thought, ‘If he can get to the hole, I better be able to get to the hole.’ You just got to get it to the big boys up front; they pretty much create the play and [they] got me a chance to get on the safeties and make them miss, and the next thing you know is history.”
It was a perfect call, with perfect execution. Harris, tight end Vernon Davis and center Matt Paradis led a convoy of blockers to the left, clearing an alley for Anderson. The first down was going to be easy. The only thing left undetermined was how far Anderson would go.
Anderson hit the seam, made Patriots safety Duron Harmon miss at the second level and raced into the end zone.
The touchdown covered 48 yards, giving the Broncos a 30-24 walk off win after trailing by 14 points in the fourth quarter.
Overall, Denver rushed for a season-high 179 yards. Anderson created 153 total yards, including 40 receiving. It marked his most productive game since Nov. 30, 2014.
Suddenly, the 9-2 Broncos look like much more than a dominant defense carrying a lacking offense.
Osweiler threw for 270 yards and the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, while Anderson and Ronnie Hillman combined for 172 rushing yards. On a night when Demaryius Thomas caught just one of 13 targets, the Broncos still scored 30 points against a defense ranked in the top five for scoring.
Head coach Gary Kubiak is going to have big decisions ahead at quarterback when Manning becomes physically ready to play. Osweiler is young and lacking experience, but his physical ability and conservative approach give the Broncos the best chance to win. And the moment has never looked too big for him.
Regardless of who Kubiak selects, the Broncos will need the running game to do the heavy lifting for the offense. If Sunday night is any indication, Anderson looks ready for the assignment.