The Denver Broncos, after losing two consecutive games, are now winners of two straight to close out the month of October. They were without Aqib Talib, Brandon Marshall, and of course C.J. Anderson, but Denver still made enough plays to edge out the San Diego Chargers 27-19 and avoid a sweep.
In a lot of ways it was an ugly game that resembled a 2015-style nail-biter; there were lots of turnovers, uneven offensive play, and plenty of heroics from the Denver defense. The thing about wins, though, is they all count the same.
Life without C.J.
In the absence of fourth-year player C.J. Anderson, the Broncos offense is fairly young. Trevor Siemian has made just seven starts, Devontae Booker and Andy Janovich are rookies, and the interior offensive line has just eight combined years of experience. This means there's going to be some ups and downs, and such was the case on offense today.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1722762-wade-phillips-carted-off-... Things did start fairly smoothly. The Broncos received the opening kick and marched down the field on the strength of a 35-yard pass to Jordan Taylor in which Siemian stood tall, took a shot, and delivered the ball in a spot that allowed plenty of yards after the catch. Siemian went on to complete passes of 11 and 13 yards to Demaryius Thomas on the drive.
They were, however, unable to cash in and settled for a Brandon McManus field goal.
After a good looking first series, things broke down and the Broncos offense stalled. There were no running lanes and the offensive line was utterly useless against a solid San Diego pass rush led by rookie Joey Bosa. Four straight three-and-outs for the offense.
One promising drive set up by a diving catch for 37 yards was negated when Melvin Ingram strip-sacked Siemian inside the red zone.
In the first half, the Broncos passed 24 times to just seven runs. The balance that was discovered on Monday appeared dead in the water.
To start the third quarter, the offense got set up with first-and-goal by big turnover. Booker took two carries to go 10 yards, and found the end zone on an outside dash from three yards out for his second touchdown in as many weeks.
But rookies are known for mistakes. After another turnover by the defense set Denver up at the six, Booker caught a pass and as he was reaching for the end zone, reached the ball out and lost it at the two. No dice.
In the rest of the game, the offense was able to mount a couple more scoring drives to hold off the surging Chargers. The first scoring drive benefited from a mix of carries for Booker and Kapri Bibbs, along with a few tight intermediate passes to Emmanuel Sanders. On a third-and-goal from the one, Siemian handed to Juwan Thompson, who scored on a tough second effort.
Later, Siemian hit a laser pass to Virgil Green for 31 yards and then another 40 on a great catch by Thomas. Another field goal as the Broncos hit 27 points.
Siemian ended the game with 278 yards on 38 attempts with no touchdowns and one pick. Booker notched 84 all-purpose yards and a score.
After another opening series touchdown given up by the Broncos (of course it was Antonio Gates), the defense tightened up and stifled San Diego for the majority of the first half.
The first pick was a momentum-shifter to say the least. San Diego was given new life after a roughing the kicker penalty, but a tipped ball was corralled by Bradley Roby, who turned around and sprinted 49 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1719434-get-si-subscription-with-... The next two came in the first five minutes of the second half. Darian Stewart grabbed another ricochet and brought it back to San Diego's 10, and then T.J. Ward sat in zone and benefited from a miscommunication from Rivers and co. before breaking a tackle and returning the interception to the six.
The Broncos defense was able to rush the passer consistently last week, but they failed to actually get a sack. That was fixed today, when the Broncos brought Rivers to the ground on four separate occasions. T.J. Ward, Von Miller, Justin Simmons, and Jared Crick were all credited. This was a big improvement from the last time these teams played, when Rivers neutralized the rush with quick drops. Denver blitzed up the middle and the edge rushers took better angles to the quarterback, resulting in much more pressure.
The one issue that still remains is the poor run defense. Melvin Gordon ran the ball 23 times for 111 yards, becoming the first 100-yard rusher allowed by the Broncos since Jamaal Charles in Week Two last year.
San Diego did stay in it, driving all of 98 yards and cashing in on a great touchdown catch by Travis Benjamin after Lorenzo Doss got a hand on the high pass. On the ensuing extra point however, Shaq Barrett batted down the kick and saved a point.
Ultimately, the Chargers had a couple of chances to tie it back up and failed. With first-and-goal from the two, Rivers threw four straight incomplete passes. Riley Dixon boomed a 68-yard punt to pin the Chargers back deeper than they expected, and the Broncos just needed one more stop.
They got it on a fourth-and-nine, when the put the heat on Rivers who threw an errant pass to Gordon. Victory formation.
Without a doubt, this one was a tough watch at times and consistently looked like Denver would break. Fortunately, they hung tough throughout and improved to 6-2.
Wherever the Raiders are in the standings, the Broncos are shadowing them. Finally, they get a chance to play a decisive head-to-head game for the undisputed lead in the AFC West.
Sunday Night Football in the Black Hole. Cannot wait.
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Will Keys is an Editor for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.