A 37-20 win against Arizona put Denver back in the thick of the AFC wild-card race. And as well as the Broncos played, they suddenly felt a lot better about the direction of their season.
Rookie quarterback Jay Cutler was fantastic in his third career start. The defense looked rejuvenated. Even the special teams, which have struggled all season, played well with a long kickoff return that set up a touchdown.
The Broncos are 8-6 and optimistic about reaching the playoffs.
"I think momentum is a big part of this game," cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "I think we had a great season last year, but the Steelers got the best momentum at the best time. Hopefully we can repeat that."
The Broncos started fast, something they haven't done much all year. Cutler hit Javon Walker for a 54-yard touchdown on an impressive deep pass to start the game. The Broncos got a field goal after an interception by Champ Bailey. The Broncos outgained Arizona 151-6 in the first quarter and held a 10-0 lead.
That was a sign of things to come for Cutler. He played with a lot of poise and made some nice throws, including a few in key third-down situations. He didn't play well in his debut against Seattle, had some good moments against San Diego, and showed a lot of promise against Arizona. He completed 21 of 31 passes for 261 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
The Broncos' offense is becoming more diverse as Cutler gets a grasp of all that is expected of him.
"I think he's going to be a great one," safety John Lynch said. "Everyone, I think, is starting to become aware of that."
Cutler said the first touchdown pass was a big boost for the entire team.
"Once we hit that big one, I think I got a lot of confidence," Cutler said. "We were off to the races."
Defensively, the Broncos got out of a slump. Denver held Arizona out of the end zone until the fourth quarter. The Broncos bottled up receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, neither of whom had a catch in the first half.
The Broncos had been under fire after giving up 48 points to San Diego last week, but they responded against the Cardinals.
"We got a lot of great guys in this locker room and we never let ourselves get down," said cornerback Champ Bailey, who had two interceptions.
The Broncos probably have to win their final two games to make the playoffs. Denver plays two home games, against Cincinnati and San Francisco. After a four-game losing streak, the Broncos' playoff push started before the game against Arizona.
"It was a game we had to win," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "Our football team knew if we don't win this game, we're out of the playoffs. This was a do or die situation for us and the guys came to play."
PLAYER NOTES --CB Darrent Williams was inactive because of toe and shoulder injuries. Williams didn't practice much during the week because of the injuries. Domonique Foxworth, who started at safety last week, moved back to cornerback to start in Williams' place.
--CB Karl Paymah got his most extensive playing time of the season because Darrent Williams was hurt. Paymah, who was drafted in the same class as Williams and Domonique Foxworth last year, hasn't played much on defense, but he was Denver's nickel back against Arizona. He played well, including a nice pass breakup in the fourth quarter.
--RB Tatum Bell had a costly fumble in the second quarter against Arizona that was returned for a touchdown. Mike Bell took most of the action in the second half and had a pair of touchdowns. Tatum Bell had only 29 yards on 18 carries.
--WR Quincy Morgan handled kickoff returns on Sunday. Rookie Brian Clark had been returning kickoffs, but he was struggling and lost a fumble two weeks ago against Seattle. Morgan broke a 64-yard kickoff return, Denver's longest since the last game of the 2003 season.
--K Jason Elam had another good game, hitting all three of his field goals. He looks fully recovered from a hamstring injury he suffered two weeks ago.
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