DENVER, Colo. — After a last-minute touchdown drive and a dagger of a defensive stand, the Denver Broncos have climbed their way out of the grave and back to life. Their 1-5 record has grown to 5-5, thanks to a 21-20 home win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football.
But the Broncos don’t believe they’ve created a blank slate or a fresh start.
“It doesn’t start fresh because we’re halfway through the season,” kicker Wil Lutz said after his perfect five-for-five performance on Sunday.
Luckily, the Broncos have something better than a fresh start: Momentum.
“How do you have confidence?” head coach Sean Payton asked rhetorically in his postgame press conference. “You do something. You guys become more confident when all of a sudden, you put together a few good pieces—you gain confidence, and it has to be gained through demonstrated ability. It’s nice to feel that in this locker room right now. It’s nice to feel that momentum.”
What the Broncos have demonstrated, and what they now believe, is that they can beat anybody.
They beat the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, who had won six consecutive games.
They backed up that win by taking down the Buffalo Bills, winners of 47 regular-season games in the previous four seasons, on the road on Monday Night Football.
Then, on Sunday Night Football, they knocked off the Minnesota Vikings, who won 13 games a year ago and brought a five-game winning streak into Denver.
“I feel like I couldn’t be more proud of everybody,” outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper said. “Just the way that we’re attacking these games, the way that we’re handling each other, the way that we’re finishing them. In the fourth quarter we’re bringing it. When we come out in the second half, we’re coming out with a different type of swag than we have in the beginning and past. I just couldn’t be more proud of us.”
Nobody on the Broncos’ roster has made a playoff appearance with the team. The last time the Broncos won four games in a row was in 2016. For many, including Jerry Jeudy, this is the most successful streak they’ve been a part of in Denver.
“Oh my god, it feels so good to win,” Jeudy said. “That’s the best feeling. There’s nothing above winning. This feels so good. You can feel the energy. I don’t talk like this in the interviews, it’s just because we won back-to-back like that. It feels good.”
From the mood in the locker room to the play on the field, this team has taken a 180-degree turn from where it was a month ago.
“We were still trying to figure out what we wanted to accomplish, who we wanted to be, offensively, defensively, all those things,” right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “You get a win like you did against Kansas City at home, you beat Buffalo on Monday night at their place, and then you come in, obviously the win against Green Bay, but those two wins back-to-back will make believers out of anybody. The way that we did it, I’m kind of at a loss for words because this is an unbelievable win. It was so gross, but we got it done when we needed to and that’s all that matters. Mental toughness is being your best on command, and we were.”
Gross wins are still wins.
The Broncos have their eyes on the playoffs, and their best chance is to earn one of three Wild Card berths. Of the three teams currently holding those spots, two played each other in a grueling 13-10 slopfest this afternoon. The other didn’t score in the second half and only beat the two-win Cardinals by five points.
Those wins were gross, but in the NFL, wins don’t need to be pretty. In fact, they rarely are. They just need to happen. And that typically means making one or two plays down the stretch.
“There at the end, we could feel the crowd roaring when the defense came out for the two-minute [drill],” safety Justin Simmons said. “That is where football games are won. I mean, you play the whole game, and I always talk about those four or five plays throughout the game that win or lose the game. But at the end of the day, you have an opportunity in the final two minutes defensively to go win the game, and that is what it is going to take. We’re going to have to keep doing that for the rest of the season.”
In other words, the Broncos have figured out how to win.
“We have a formula going on, and once we have that it is just pretty exciting to see,” cornerback Patrick Surtain II said. “It brings a different type of energy around the locker room, like you said, enthusiasm. We’re just going to keep on rolling, keep on going, but seeing how far we’ve come, seeing how many games we won under our belt is pretty cool to see.”
The Broncos’ formula might seem unsustainable. They’re creating takeaways at a ludicrous rate and the easy scores those takeaways create are propping up an offense that, at least by most metrics, hasn’t pulled its weight during the win streak.
The Broncos’ 12 takeaways in the past three games are the most by any team in a three-game span in two years. Averaging four takeaways per game over the rest of the season is unlikely, but the takeaway rate isn’t entirely fluky.
“It’s always sustainable,” Payton said of his team’s takeaways. “Finish the season, and you look at teams—I’ve been a part of teams in the 30s.”
Of the past 10 teams that had 12 turnovers in a three-game span, eight made the postseason. The last time the Broncos hit that mark, they won their first Super Bowl a couple of months later.
The key now is to keep the pedal to the metal.
“There were two different times we were 0-4 in New Orleans and then got back to 4-4,” Payton said. “Now, when that happens, there’s a certain amount of energy required to get you back. Then naturally, all of us want to exhale, and we can’t.”
If the Broncos can win four consecutive games and still be hungry, they have a great chance to keep playing past the first weekend in January.
They’re the hottest team in the NFL. There’s no reason the win streak can’t continue to five… or six… or seven… or…
But Payton needs to see more before he calls this momentum a groove.
“You’re asking me, four wins in a row—yeah, I think we have some momentum going. I don’t know if I’m ready to groove yet.”
Beat the Browns, the current owner of the top Wild Card spot in the AFC, on Sunday and Payton should be grooving.