The Denver Broncos 31-24 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night was a quintessential gut-check game. On the road, the Broncos overcame self-imposed adversity and a two-score deficit to win the game, against a tough divisional opponent.
There was a lot to be gleaned from the big win. And although I'm still trying to process what I saw, here are the three primary takeaways from Thrusday night.
Kicking and Screaming All The Way
"I think if there is one thing that you would like to have and you want to feel—at least in the last game you want to feel like you go out kicking and screaming," Elway said in January. "When you’re right there and I think two years in a row it didn’t feel like we went out kicking and screaming because of the fact the way we played the last game."
Elway targeted his former backup quarterback and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak early in the Broncos head coaching search, eventually hiring him because he felt Kubiak shared the "ache" to bring another World Championship to Denver.
Based on the first two regular season games of the Kubiak administration, there's no doubt that things have changed. The Broncos clearly have bought into the "kicking and screaming" mantra. Like a battle cry, it was on full display on Thursday night.
This roster is built to compliment each of the three phases of football. As we saw last night, the Broncos don't need Peyton Manning to surpass 400 yards passing and throw four touchdowns, or C.J. Anderson to rush for 100 yards, in order to win.
If the offense has a bad night, the defense is there to bridge the gap and pick up the slack. When the defense gave up a late go-ahead touchdown to the Chiefs, the onus fell on the offense to answer and answer they did.
On special teams, Brandon McManus is a perfect 5-for-5 on field goal attempts thus far, including three perfect strikes from 50+ yards out. Even punter Britton Colquitt is doing an admirable job in helping to win the field position battle, averaging 47.8 yards per punt.
When a given team can beat you in a variety of ways, it means they're a force to be reckoned with. It doesn't matter how a team wins. Winning ugly still results in a 'W' in the standings.
Things are far from perfect in Denver right now. But the upside is that the Broncos are playing complimentary football and when the chips have been down, they've answered the bell. It seems Elway's decree has sunk in.
Adapt or die. Elway and the Broncos adapted and now their living.
DT Came Through In The Clutch
Demaryius Thomas' first seven quarters of the 2015 season were relatively quiet. After a Week 1 performance that saw him haul in seven balls for 60 yards (8.6 YPC), he got off to somewhat of a sluggish start against the Chiefs.
The concerns about Thomas busting after getting paid $70 million have been fresh on the minds of many inside Broncos Country. Following last night's final drive, perhaps those fears have been assuaged.
In the Broncos 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive at the end of the fourth quarter, he was instrumental. He caught three balls for 54 yards. And each one of them were tough, high-pressure receptions.
Without Thomas making those contested catches in the clutch, Manning doesn't find Emmanuel Sanders in the endzone for the second time last night and the Broncos go home 1-1. Truly great players find a way to make plays when the chips are down.
Demaryius Thomas stepped up big-time on Thursday night. He finished with eight receptions for 116 yards. He's on pace for yet another 1,400-yard receiving season.
Defense Wins Championships..
The 2015 Broncos defense is fast. They're dynamic—aggressive. Opportunistic.
In two games thus far, they've taken the ball away seven times. They've scored 12 points. Having Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan together on the field at inside linebacker has given this unit an emotional lift that is quantifiable.
And that pass rush—wow. In two games, the Broncos have pressured the quarterback—hurries, hits, sacks—49 times, according to Pro Football Focus. Think about that. DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller look like players reborn. They've been relentless.
And the pass rush isn't just coming off the edge. They're getting good pressure inside. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips knows that if they can get after the QB, the turnovers are going to come.
So far, that philosophy has borne fruit in spades. Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Jr., and Bradley Roby have each contributed already in the turnover game. Talib already has two interceptions (including a pick-6), while Harris has one. Roby scooped up Brandon Marshall's forced fumble on Jamaal Charles last night and ran it in for the game-clinching touchdown.
Because with a guy like Peyton Manning, no victory is out of reach. Add to that a dominant, ballhawking defense and it's a recipe for sustainable success. Now, if only the Broncos could figure out that pesky running game, they'd be virtually unbeatable.
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