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Through the first nine games of the season, the Denver Broncos had a unique formula of winning. The path to 6-3 was built upon slow starts and last minute defensive stops.
On Sunday, against the New Orleans Saints, the Broncos did nearly everything the complete opposite of what they had done in the first half of the season, and still found a familiar result: a win.
Before Sunday’s game, the Broncos were the comeback kids, always putting themselves behind the eight ball early and often. However, against the Saints, not only did the Broncos hold New Orleans out of the end zone on their first possession but then the offense drove 85-yards for a touchdown on their first possession, giving them something they rarely have: an early lead.
At the end of the first quarter, the Broncos led 7-0, their first lead at the end of the first quarter since Super Bowl 50.
After two very rough games running the ball, a combined 90 yards, Denver was able to regain balance within the offense. While they only averaged 4.1 yards per play, the 37 rushing attempts combined with 40 passing attempts gave them the balance they needed to have five scoring possessions.
Instead of getting better as the game went on, like the rest of the season, the Broncos’ defense allowed 14-points in the third quarter after only allowing three in the first half.
However, with 3:15 left and the game in the balance the defense stepped up, per usual, and forced a fumble giving the Broncos the ball on New Orleans 20-yard line with a chance to end the game. This time, it was Jared Crick and backup linebacker Corey Nelson who forced the fumble, not a high-profile player such as Von Miller as it has been in the past.
On the next possession leading 23-20, with the chance to put the game out of reach with a touchdown, the offense was only able to manage a field goal, giving the Saints the ball down one with 2:50 left.
Three other times Denver’s defense has had it’s back up against the wall in the waning minutes—against the Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers—and was able to come up with the necessary stop it needed to secure the victory.
Not against the Saints, however.
In just over a minute Drew Brees picked apart Denver’s stout defense and led the Saints to a touchdown, tying the game at 23.
Thankfully for Denver’s defense, the special teams unit—led by their own—saved the day, blocking the extra point and returning it for two points. That put Denver up 25-23 and was ultimately enough to get the win. Not only was it the special teams unit that gave the Broncos the biggest play of the game, but also it was two rookie safeties in on the play, Justin Simmons and Will Parks.
It’s said that good teams find ways to win. On Sunday, the Broncos ditched their previous winning formula and created a new one.
Next week Denver won’t have to find a way to win since they will be on their bye. However, after the bye, the Broncos will most likely have to find different ways to win as they have the toughest remaining strength of schedule in the NFL.