Denver averted an absolute disaster against the New Orleans Saints, picking up a much, much-needed road win and heading into the bye week with a solid, flexible 7-3 record. All is within reach.
Things got started in an opposite manner from what we're all used to at this point. The Broncos deferred the opening kickoff, stopped the Saints offense, and drove down the field to score an opening-drive touchdown on offense. The drive was primarily a result of an unprecedented balance from the offense, alternating quick throws to Demaryius Thomas and A.J. Derby with runs to Devontae Booker. Eventually, Trevor Siemian darted a perfect pass to Jordan Taylor for a 14-yard score.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1727743-5-ways-denver-showed-impr... The defense quickly followed suit and built off the offensive momentum when Stewart read the eyes of Drew Brees and stole a potential touchdown away from a streaking Travaris Cadet at the Denver eight. One score off the board.
After getting free from the shadow of their own end zone, the Broncos eventually had to punt, but Stewart decided he wanted another pick. One defensive play after his previous interception, tight coverage from Bradley Roby tipped the ball into the air and the ball-hawking Stewart took it away. The Broncos would bog down on offense, but a 50-yard laser from Brandon McManus made it 10-0.
The second quarter became nothing more than a defensive struggle until the very end of the half, when the Broncos offense was knocking on the door for another gap-widening score before the half. Siemian stared down Emmanuel Sanders and paid the price when Sterling Moore jumped the route and brought a pick back to around midfield.
Brees and the Saints offense dutifully responded with a 24-yard pass to Willie Snead Jr. and another 16 to Michael Thomas. Rookie kicker Wil Lutz (learn to spell, Wil) added a short field goal to get the Saints on the board before the half, potentially a six-point swing in the game.
The momentum that the Saints exited the half with carried over well into the third quarter. Denver's offense got themselves into a favorable second-and-one, but couldn't pick up those all-important three feet and punted back to New Orleans, who came back with a vengeance on the strength of a few passes to Snead, including a 37-yard reception by Brandin Cooks that set up a three-yard touchdown toss to a wide-open Snead. All knotted up at 10.
Sometimes when it rains, it pours. The third quarter was not the most triumphant of times for the Broncos offense. The offensive line was consistently being vexed by stunts and blitzes from the Saints' front seven, and Siemian was paying the price. The passing game just couldn't establish any rhythm, as Siemian fell victim to six sacks over the course of the game. Some of them were his fault, and of course others a product of a faulty line that eventually pulled Donald Stephenson for Ty Sambrailo.
The struggles came to a head when Siemian felt the heat, lost his mechanics, and threw a pass on a straight line to Kenny Vaccaro, who returned the ball 30 yards to Denver's own 38.
While the Broncos were in flux on the sideline, Brees wasted no time. In three plays, the Saints ate up those remaining 38 yards and finished off the drive with a second touchdown pass to Snead. A seven-point lead for the Saints.
To the offense's and to Siemian's credit, the guys buckled up and responded with a nice-looking drive, aided by a one-handed 18-yard snag by D.T., that moved to the New Orleans' 24. A sack by Craig Robertson turned a promising drive into a field goal attempt, and McManus lapsed by pulling a 42-yarder wide to the left.
The defense, however, just would not let the team die like that. Brees darted a slant to Thomas, but Roby jarred the ball loose from the rookie wide receiver. Darian Stewart, again, found himself in the right place at the right time and collected the fumble to set the offense up deep in Saints territory.
Say what you will about Trevor Siemian, but he hung in on a crucial third-and-goal, took a major shot, and watched from the turf as Demaryius Thomas boxed out Delvin Breaux to high-point a 50-50 ball for the tying score.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1719434-get-si-subscription-with-... The defense kept up the momentum and on third down Shaq Barrett used an iron grip to sack Brees and end their potential answer.
A drive that was helped out by a 15-yard late hit penalty stalled inside the ten, and McManus drilled a 28-yard kick for a 20-17 lead.
With a chance to tie or take the lead, the Broncos made Thomas pay for a second time. He caught a short pass, turned up the field, and took a shot on the backside from a hustling Jared Crick, who jarred the ball free and into the hands of T.J. Ward. Four timely turnovers by the defense.
They would need one more.
Denver's offense drained no time, but did add three points to necessitate a touchdown from the Saints offense. Brees responded in short order, firing a 29-yard pinpoint pass to Cooks, and then a 32-yard stunner to Cooks in the end zone, who pulled the ball in between two Broncos defenders. All tied up.
As Denver's offense prepared for a last-minute drive with less than a minute and a half remaining, the Saints lined up for an extra point that would give them the lead. And that's when the Broncos won the game.
Rookie safety Justin Simmons timed the snap perfectly, leaped over the line, and rejected Lutz' kick. The ball bounced to the left and was scooped up by another rookie safety, Will Parks scooped up the loose ball, and sprinted down the Saints' sideline for the final two points that would decide the game. It was unclear whether or not Parks stepped out of bounds, but his white cleats made the distinction nearly impossible to make.
An unsuccessful onside kick and two kneels later, and the Broncos were 7-3 and celebrating their way into the bye week.
To get instant Broncos notifications, download the NEW Scout mobile app for iOS HERE!
Will Keys is an Editor for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.