It was far from perfect, but it was enough.
The Denver Broncos defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 20-17 in an overtime thriller that had as many twists and turns as one would expect out of a potential playoff preview. Over the course of a wild evening, the Broncos came back from a 14-point deficit, overcame a poorly-timed turnover, and a shanked field goal, to secure a playoff spot for the fifth consecutive year. Talk about kicking and screaming.
The game could not have started worse for Denver. The Broncos defense looked softer than butter on the opening Bengals possession, allowing a 15-play, nearly eight minute touchdown drive to open the first half. A.J. McCarron, in just his second appearance as a starting quarterback for the Bengals, looked like the better talent under center in the early going.
McCarron’s ball placement was impeccable in the early going of the game, completing multiple sideline throws with ease in the early scripted period of the game.
His counterpart, Broncos gunslinger Brock Osweiler, struggled mightily in the early stages of the game, as he dealt with consistent pressure in his face and an inability to run the football. The Broncos nearly finished the first half without a point.
All seemed lost late in the second quarter for the Broncos as McCarron led the Bengals down the field on another long touchdown drive to take a 14-0 lead.
Finally, a Brandon McManus field goal late in the second quarter put the Broncos on the board, and set the tone for the furious comeback to come in the second half.
In recent weeks, second halves have been ugly for the Denver Broncos. They had been outscored 30-0 in the second half, since claiming an overtime win against the New England Patriots last month.
That would change on the first Broncos possession of the second half, as Osweiler turned his game up a notch, completing two long passes and finishing the drive with a flourish on a touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders.
Then, suddenly, the Broncos broke out. A 39-yard C.J. Anderson touchdown run, reminiscent of the one that secured the Broncos win over the Patriots some weeks back, sparked an explosion of energy on both sides of that ball that appeared would carry the Broncos to a win.
However, after an Anderson fumble, a Bengals field goal changed the flow of the game, tying it at 17.
Brock Osweiler was then asked to lead a final, game-sealing drive with less than a minute on the clock. Sound familiar? He came through, getting the Broncos in line for a 45-yard Brandon McManus field goal to win the game with four seconds on the clock.
To say McManus missed the kick would be an understatement. To say he shanked it would be an understatement. McManus’ attempt to win the game and send the Broncos to the post season at the end of regulation was so far to the left it easily could have wound up in Nevada. Overtime would be needed to determine a winner.
After winning the coin toss, Osweiler led the Broncos on yet another drive to set up a McManus field goal. Osweiler would finish the night with 299 yards passing, a touchdown, and no interceptions.
However, his clutch gene was evident on the final drive, giving McManus an opportunity for redemption. This time, he came through, splitting the uprights and putting Denver up 20-17 with 10 minutes left in the overtime period.
On the next Bengals possession, McCarron made the mistake he hadn’t made all evening, mishandling a snap and causing a fumble that gave the Denver Broncos their fifth playoff spot in as many years.
Head coach Gary Kubiak was thrilled with the comeback win.
“My message to the team was, ‘That was one hell of a second half of football,” Kubiak said. “Getting into the playoffs in the NFL is a hell of an accomplishment.”
However, there’s still a lot on the line for the Broncos, and the team will have to turn its attention quickly to the San Diego Chargers if they’re going to meet their goals. A win next weekend gives Denver a first round bye in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.
To get instant Broncos notifications, download the NEW Scout mobile app for iOS HERE!
Be sure to check out the ever-growing benefit package of being a Mile High Huddle Insider! Check it out HERE.