Over the last few weeks, the Denver Broncos have proved that they can win in more ways than one. Today, they knocked off the Buffalo Bills 24-17, primarily by grinding it out on the ground. The final score belies the actual flow of the game, however.
Going into the fourth quarter, the Broncos were up 24-3. The Bills scored their first touchdown of the day with 10:52 left to go. Up two scores, defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, deployed his prevent defense, which resulted in one more garbage time TD with 55 seconds left in the game.
Leading the way for the Broncos was C.J. Anderson, yet again. They fed him the ball 21 times, and although he was only able to average 2.8 yards per carry, he scored a career-high three rushing TDs. The Bills came into the game as the league's No. 5 overall defense, and for the most part, they lived up to their billing, stifling Anderson between the 20's.
But the Bills found out the hard way that the one-two punch the Broncos have at running back, in Anderson and Juwan Thompson, is exhausting and demoralizing. Just when they thought they had Anderson bottled up, Thompson would come into the game and pound the rock down their throats.
Thompson carried the ball only 4 times today, but led the team in rushing, gashing the Bills for 63 yards (15.8 YPC), including a 47-yard scamper in the 3rd quarter that led to Anderson's third TD of the day. One player led the team in TDs, the other in rushing yards. The Broncos have something special in their former undrafted rookie free agent duo.
Over the last three weeks, Anderson has five total TDs (4 rush, 1 rec), which is the most by any player in the NFL over that span. His three touchdowns today makes him only the 11th Broncos player to accomplish the feat in the history of the club. The former California running back is on a roll, and he's doing it banged up, with an ankle injury.
Peyton Manning's 51-game streak of throwing a TD pass came to an end today, as he failed to hit a receiver in the endzone. It also marked the first time in his career with the Broncos that he did not have a passing TD. Although the streak ended, it was the third-longest in the history of the NFL.
With the stout Bills defense, and the Broncos commitment to running the ball, Manning had a hard time getting into a rhythm today, going 14-of-20, for 173 yards and 2 interceptions. He averaged 8.7 yards per completion and ended the game with his lowest passer rating of the season, with 56.9. In four out of the Broncos last six games, Manning has tossed 2 INTs. He has to figure out a way to get into a groove, without throwing it 40+ times a game.
Head coach, John Fox, was asked after the game if running the ball so much makes it difficult for a QB to get into a rhythm.
“I think it can," Fox said via the team. "Having never played quarterback, I can’t speak to that. There are guys more qualified to answer that than me. I do think that it keeps a very good D-line off of you. I think sometime when you pass a lot they can tee off on you, so I think balance is important, especially against the kind of opponent we played tonight.”
Wes Welker led the team with a season-high 82 yards receiving on 6 receptions. He had seemingly become the forgotten man, much to the detriment of the Bills secondary. He put on tape a performance that will force future opposing defensive coordinators to have to account for yet another weapon in the Broncos offense. His QB was pleased by his performance.
“Wes played well. I thought his little seam route down the middle really jumped started us," said Manning after the game. "Buffalo has got a good defense and I thought that play—disappointing first drive, had great field position and didn’t do much. We had a couple of penalties that really put us in long downs and distances that we weren’t able to overcome, which were disappointing. That particular series, I hit Wes on that post route down the middle, which was a huge play. Hit him on a couple other things. He made a nice back shoulder catch down on the sideline. He really—I know two catches that I know set up both touchdowns and did a good job on a couple of the shorter passes as well. Real pleased with Wes. He’s played hard all year. I know all those guys really want their number to be called every single play but it doesn’t always happen that way. This was not a good game for the receivers to have a lot of big numbers. Wes played well and helped us get this victory today.”
Although tight end Julius Thomas suited up for today's game, he did not play, which is very odd. Perhaps he tweaked his bum ankle in pre-game warm-ups. Today marked the third-straight game he's missed. Hopefully, he'll be good to go next week.
Fox was asked why Thomas was held out of game action, after having dressed.
“I think he got a week better," he said. "He’s healing, he was close. We went with having him active but not the full intention of playing him. If we needed him we could have [played him]. I think he’s taken a step in the right direction and we’re going to need him moving forward.”
The Broncos defense again played great football, taking the ball away three times. They allowed the Bills 341 passing yards, much of it coming in the fourth quarter. Oddly, defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, had his rookie cornerback, Bradley Roby, matched up with the Bills best wide receiver, Sammy Watkins, all game long.
Watkins ended the day with 7 receptions for 127 yards. Once Kyle Orton saw Roby lined up on Watkins consistently, he targeted the rookie early and often, with great success. Roby did make one great play in the first quarter, stripping Watkins of the ball, which was recoverd by Rahim Moore.
Instead of matching up his best cover man, Chris Harris, Jr, on the Bills best WR, Del Rio rolled the dice on Roby and the result left much to be desired. It was really the only thing that the Bills could do with any success. Harris still found a way to get in on the action, however, picking off Orton and notching a sack.
Von Miller notched his 13th sack of the season and the 48th of his career, tying former Green Bay Packers pass rusher, Tim Harris, for seventh-most in league history, through a player's first four seasons. Miller also had 2 tackles (1 for a loss) and a QB hit. He pressured Orton consistenly off the edge.
With the Broncos 3 takeaways (2 INT, 1 FF), it was the first time they've had back-to-back games with at least three takeaways since December of 2009. The defense is executing at a high level, which is key to winning in December and down the stretch.
Brandon Marshall continued his streak of impressive play, notching 9 total tackles and 3 passes defensed. He also nabbed his first career interception, becoming just the sixth player to have 9 tackles and 3 PD in a single game this season. When asked about the defense's performance today, Marshall was circumspect.
“I think we went out there and we handled business," said Marshall. "We did well on defense. We have to do better at the end of the game, but I thought for the most part we did a great job. We did well on offense too, so it was a great team win for us.”
Marshall was also a big reason the Broncos were able to limit the Bills to just 74 yards on the ground. Yet again, the opposing offense was effectively rendered one-dimensional, which set the defense up for their 3-turnover day.
Recently promoted kickoff specialist, Brandon McManus, produced four touchbacks on five kickoffs, with all five of them reaching the endzone. The Broncos recently released punt returner, Isaiah Burse, to make room for McManus. Welker handled punt return duties, but only had one return for 7 yards.
Newly-signed kicker, Connor Barth, who knocked through five field goals last week vs the Kansas City Chiefs, did what McManus could not do earlier this season; convert a field goal from 50+ yards out. He nailed a 50-yard attempt and made all three of his extra point tries.
Today's win puts the Broncos at 10-3, marking the third-straight season of double digit wins. Next up, the Broncos will travel to take on the San Diego Chargers, who at this very moment are battling the New England Patriots. If the Chargers win tonight, next week's stakes could be for all the marbles in the AFC West.