Back in September Denver Broncos fans looked at the schedule and automatically pegged this one as a Denver win – fast forward to November 16, 2008 and they're just hoping to keep it close. The Falcons rebounded from last year's meltdown and the Broncos are plagued with injuries – but hey, Tatum Bell's back and it might just be enough to pull it off.
I wouldn't lay any money on it though…
Well here's a switch – Atlanta takes the kick and goes absolutely nowhere. Three straight incompletes for the rookie Matt Ryan. Nice "D" I guess. Don't really understand why they didn't hit the run – especially against Denver, but what do I know.
Broncos get their shot with great field position. Cutler's gunning it - third and nine and he finds Stokly for the first. Follows it up with nice shots to Eddie Royal and Brandon Marshall. Denver's past midfield and looking sharp. Cutler to Royal coming across the middle – no one within yards – the rook drops it – ouch. Back to Stokley and they're inside the 20. Toss to Marshall on the sideline – welcome to the red zone. Peyton Hillis powers up the middle for a Broncos touchdown. Maybe the magic's back – at least on offense. Cutler hits 6 of 7 on a 10 play, 55-yard drive. Broncos open it up with a 7-0 lead.
Falcons decide to bust out back to back runs – 3-yard gain. Ryan to the air – grabs a first down to Finneran. No wonder this kid's getting all the pub – he's on a roll, picking apart the Broncos secondary. Denver's doing a great job covering the ground game – dropping Snelling for a 3-yard loss. Falcons stall it at the Broncos 28 and it's guess who to save the day – Jason Elam splits the uprights. Broncos fans gotta be cringing to see him in an Atlanta uni… Falcons cut the lead 7-3 with 2:31 in the quarter.
Broncos will start it just inside the 20 – Cutler to Royal for a 4-yard gain. Across the middle to Marshall for 5 – handoff to Tatum Bell for no gain – Broncos go three and out. Welcome home TB… a little rusty? Atlanta will have it near their own 30.
Ryan airs it out against Dre Bly – complete to Roddy White for a 35-yard pick up as the first comes to a close.
Bly tries to make up for it – dropping Michael Turner in the backfield for a 4-yard loss. Back to the air – Ryan scrambles and finds Jenkins for a 15-yard pick up. Shanahan challenges that he was past the line of scrimmage… play stands, Broncos lose a time out. Falcons are just outside the 20. Drive stalls at the 18 and Mr. Automatic sends it through again – Falcons trim it 7-6.
Royal takes the kick and he's off to the races – 52-yard return ignites it – fabulous special teams play. Broncos are inside the 40 – Cutler to Marshall – another dropped ball – unbelievable. Swing pass to Hillis moves it to the 31. Third and three and it's a near pick – it's Matt Prater time – 49-yards out and it's wide left. Anyone missing Elam at this stage? Broncos walk away empty-handed on a short field. That's gotta hurt…
Falcons take it at the 39 – Turner on the ground for 7 – Turner again for one, brings up 3rd and one – Back to Turner and it's close… no gain – Atlanta goes for it on fourth. Flags are thrown – Broncos are drawn offsides on the hard count. New life for the Falcons. Ryan airs it out to White – incomplete. Nice coverage by Bly (for a change). I take that back – White beats Bly across the middle and he moves it inside the 10. Turner on the ground for the score – Nice slap in the face by Atlanta – 7 plays, 61-yards and it's a 13-7 Falcons lead with just over 7:00 left in the half.
I love Eddie Royal – another great return – 45-yard return. Let's see what Denver can do with another short field. Hillis on the ground for one – 2nd and nine brings up a false start on Tony Scheffler – 2nd and 14. Out of the shotgun – it's a double reverse to Royal – 12-yard pick up and it's 3rd and 2 near midfield. Pitch to Royal and ATL's got it covered. Loss of 2 – another wasted series off a great return. Falcons take it at the 17.
Atlanta's got momentum – Ryan's looking like a seasoned vet – rookie quarterback, rookie head coach – who would have thought.
Ryan on the fake – nine-yard pick up moves it near the Denver 40 with a buck and a half left on the clock. Incomplete on the roll out – incomplete on the sideline – shuffle pass is broken up by Dummerville and the Falcons are forced to punt. Broncos take possession at their own 15 with two time outs and a mile of real estate ahead of them.
Cutler to Stokley for four – Cutler to Marshall for a first down. Thirty seconds left and the play is under review. Maybe he didn't make it. Zebras call it short by less than a yard. Cutler out of the shotgun – sacked in the backfield – here comes Brett Kern for the punt – no hang time at all – ATL takes a fair catch near midfield. Ryan for the knee – first half comes to a close with the Falcons holding a 13-7 lead. If you bet the over on this one it's time to start sweating.
Here we go again kids – Broncos start it at the 23 – Bell on the ground picks up four. Cutler to the air – nothing's open and he scrambles for a few. Third and 2 – quick toss to Hillis for the first. Airs it out to Royal – 19-yard pick up. Ball is spotted at the 46. Roll out toss to Jackson moves it to the 32. Hillis on the ground – 12-yard pick up moves it to the 19. Incomplete to Marshall in the end zone. P.J. Pope (who?) busts it up the middle and he's down to the 4. Pope again for 2 – brings up 3rd and goal. Toss out to Hillis and he goes untouched into the end zone. Nice rebound to start the half – 11 plays, 77-yards and it's a one point Denver lead – 14-13.
Prater sails to the end zone – Falcons return it to the 13. On the ground for 7 – Turner on the ground for 16 but flags fly – bring it back for holding and it's half the distance to the goal and 2nd and 12. Ryan to Norwood moves it within one of a first. Toss to Norwood to the 29 and it's a first down for ATL. Whatever they're doing – it's working. Falcons break out the no-huddle and they're past midfield. Broncos bring the blitz and Ryan fires a perfect strike – to Dre Bly – his first INT of the year and Denver gets great field position at the 37.
Cutler's ready to gun it again – 17-yard toss to Jackson moves it into Falcons territory. Cutler to Marshall, jukes and jives his way down to the 31. Hillis on the ground for 5 – momentum's sure a funny thing – and right now the Broncos are loving it. Pitch out to Pope adds 15 more and it's down to the 10. Cutler to Royal across the middle – incomplete – flags fly for interference – ball is spotted at the 5. Hillis on the ground for four and it's second and goal from the one. Cutler's looking for Graham on the roll out, but it's just outside his reach – 3rd down and the Falcons stuff Hillis for no gain as the third quarter comes to a close.
Ok, so we've got fourth and goal and here comes Mr. Semi-Automatic, Matt Prater to tack on an easy 3 – Broncos extend the lead 17-13 to start off the fourth.
Falcons start it at the 23 – it's Ryan that's looking to gun it now – hits Mughelli for fifteen - tack on another 14 to Finneran and the Falcons are moving the ball. Third and eight from the 39 and Ryan throw out an incompletion – Broncos give it right back with a defensive holding penalty on Jarvis Moss – automatic first and new life for ATL.
Turner keeps it on the ground and before you know it Atlanta's in Denver territory. Two plays later it's Turner again – off tackle for a 28-yard touchdown run. Say goodbye to the lead Denver – Turner's got his second score of the day – ATL back on top 20-17.
Cutler starts it at the 16 after Royal's return. Pope on the ground for 3 – incomplete to Scheffler across the middle and Denver faces a 3rd and 7 deep in their own territory. Cutler goes deep for Marshall – BEAUTIFUL – 58-yard reception to a diving Marshall. Hillis on the ground picks up six. Bell moves it to the 20 with a six-yard pick up. Falcons look stunned – Bell again – down to the 13. Bell's ringing it again but the Broncos get tagged with offensive holding on Chris Kuper – that hurts.
Cutler to Hillis on the sideline – tightropes his way to the 8. Add on another four for Hillis, this guy's busting his own today. False start on Daniel Graham and Denver's shooting themselves in the foot now. 2nd and goal at the 9 – incomplete to Scheffler – bad toss – no chance to catch it. 3rd and goal – Cutler comes back and threads the needle to Daniel Graham in the end zone. Unbelievable pass and Broncos regain the lead 24-20.
Falcons get a nice return to the 24. Ryan hits White and he's close to a first. Turner on the ground gets it. Clock is winding to the 4:00 mark. Ryan hits White for a pick up of 12 and Atlanta nears midfield. Ryan to the air – near pick by Jamie Wilborn – that could have sealed it. 3rd and 7 – Ryan hits Finneran on the sideling for a huge pickup. Ball is moved inside the Broncos 40. Turner on the ground for a loss – and we're at the two minute warning with Atlanta threatening.
Ryan goes back to the air – nobody's open and the Falcons get slammed with an offensive holding penalty. Broncos are rolling out with 6 "D" backs. It's second and 20 and the Falcons throw out a quck to that picks up a couple. Clock continues to roll. Ryan's going deep to White – a sure touchdown is dropped in the corner of the end zone – Marquand Manuel dodges a bullet – he was completely beaten on the play.
Matt Ryan and the Falcons are facing fourth and 18 from the 45, heading out of a time out. Shanny's turn – as soon as he sees the formation Broncos call time. Ryan drops back – forced to scramble as Dummerville is ready to unload. Pass falls in-com-plete and the Broncos take over on downs with under a minute left.
Cutler keeps it on the ground – chewing out the last few seconds to try and move out to 6-4 with the Chargers getting set to do battle with in snowy Pittsburgh. 45 seconds left and Denver's looking at 3rd and 1 from the Falcons 45-yard line. Bell breaks it and slides down as the clock rolls out. What do you know - back to back road wins for Denver - it'll be a nice flight home… Props to Spenser Larson who became the first player since 2003 to go both ways – offense and defense as well as special teams. BTW - fabulous defensive effort holding the Falcons to 114 net yards rushing. There may be hope yet…
Some quick stats -
Cutler pulls off 19 of 27 for 216-yards and 1 TD
Marshall nabs 6 catches for 89-yards
Hillis rolls out 10 carries for 44-yards and 2 TD's
... and the Broncos "D" comes through when the had to - catching a HUGE break when Roddy White drops a sure touchdown in the end zone...
It must be getting close to Christmas.
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