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The Denver Broncos played mad as hell, and they weren't gonna take it anymore

Andrew Mason Avatar
November 8, 2021

ARLINGTON, Texas — Four plays into the game here Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys began showing how little they respected the Denver Broncos.

It was fourth-and-1 at the Denver 38-yard line. Dallas started its first possession at the Broncos 47 after two missed tackles led to a 54-yard kickoff return by Tony Pollard, then gained 9 yards in 3 plays.

They went for it. And Justin Simmons burst through the hole and engulfed Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott for a 1-yard loss.

The Broncos offense responded to the good fortune by going backwards 10 yards in three snaps.

And then the Cowboys went for it again on their next series, this time on fourth-and-2 at the Denver 20. They failed.

And the Broncos got mad.

“You take the field with a little anger, honestly,” said quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. “It’s like, ‘Hey, man, they;’re going for it because they’re saying our offense is not going to score,’ so we talked about it in the huddle and we used it as motivation.”

Wide receiver Tim Patrick was less diplomatic.

“Disrespectful,” he said. “That s***’s disrespectful.”

Like 46 men channeling their inner Howard Beales, the Broncos were mad as hell, and they weren’t gonna take it anymore.

“They’re trying us,” Patrick said. “And that’s what happens when you try us.”

What happened was breathtaking.

Never had so many people seen a Broncos regular-season game. The 93,503 on hand became witnesses to a bludgeoning.

The Broncos led 30-0 before two touchdown passes and a pair of two-point conversions against a decimated defense missing its top three cornerbacks salvaged a scintilla of the Cowboys’ lost dignity.

At the afternoon’s end, the scoreboard read 30-16.

But make no mistake, this was a mauling.

The Broncos, kicked in the teeth so many times over the past five years, just six days removed from having their one sure-fire Hall of Famer stripped from the roster for draft picks, took the Cowboys’ disrespect, crammed it into shreds and made them eat it for the better part of three hours.

The Cowboys strutted into Sunday believing that their six wins, the blue stars on their helmets and all of the élan that goes with playing for the self-proclaimed “America’s Team” gave them more margin for error than the 37-mile distance between Dallas and Fort Worth.

As it turned out, there was no margin for error. Not against a Broncos team that was battered from the outside by doubting observers and the inside by injuries, and yet responded not with a whimper, but the biggest bang they’d displayed since Super Bowl 50.

Dallas dropped passes, couldn’t protect Dak Prescott and repeatedly got punched in the mouth by a hungry and angry Broncos offensive line that featured three backups by the third quarter.

The Broncos’ confidence built, crested and then washed over the hapless Cowboys like a tsunami.

“I think once you feel it, the guys feel it, there’s a little bit more ‘oomph’ in their game, you know?” Vic Fangio asked.

The same could be said of Fangio himself after the win, who answered questions with the swagger of a man who had zero f***s left to give.

All that came in the wake of a morning in which the Broncos sat on pins and needles, wondering if any of their quarterbacks would be available.

Upon arriving in Dallas on Saturday, backup quarterback Drew Lock learned that he was a close contact of someone outside of the Broncos organization who tested positive for COVID-19. Then, Lock — who is vaccinated — himself tested positive.

Lock’s positive test made Bridgewater a close contact of someone with COVID-19, which meant the Broncos’ starting quarterback had to test negative before being ruled eligible to play.

First, they had to retest Bridgewater’s sample. The first time they ran it through, there was an error.

“I didn’t really get cleared until about five minutes before I came out to warm up, so I just had to sit around, really go through my same routine, but just be on standby,” Bridgewater said.

But he was cleared, and he was efficient. He ran for one touchdown, threw a perfect 44-yard pass to Patrick for another, and played zero-turnover football for the sixth time in nine games this year.

The Broncos had almost as many heroes as points.

  • Javonte Williams had the first 100-yard game of his career.
  • Quinn Meinerz replaced an injured Graham Glasgow and mauled Cowboys defenders up front.
  • Calvin Anderson was steady at left tackle in relief of Garett Bolles, while Cameron Fleming filled in well for Bobby Massie on the right flank.
  • Jerry Jeudy had a team-leading 6 catches for 69 yards.
  • Jonathon Cooper had a pair of sacks with the Broncos playing the game without Malik Reed, Bradley Chubb and the traded Von Miller on the edge.
  • Melvin Gordon didn’t have the explosive runs Williams did, but he had a solid game with 95 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown.
  • Kareem Jackson was a guided missile, notching nine tackles.
  • Kendall Hinton had a 40-yard catch-and-run that set up a Bridgewater sneak for a score.
  • Andrew Beck had the lead block on Gordon’s touchdown. Caden Sterns intercepted a pass.
  • Kyle Fuller played all three cornerback spots in the nickel package because of injuries and got a game ball. Nate Hairston had a tackle for a loss.
  • Baron Browning had six stops and a quarterback hit.
  • Jonas Griffith alertly recovered a muffed catch of a blocked Sam Martin punt by Nahshon Wright, and since Wright touched the ball beyond the line of scrimmage, the Broncos had a fresh set of downs, from which Williams and Bridgewater powered the Broncos to a field goal that increased Denver’s lead to three scores, at 19-0.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

This was a team win.

A team decimated by injuries, COVID-19 absences and a trade of its signature player took the measure of a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

The standings said the Broncos were in the race.

At 4-4, they sat just a half-game out of the final two seeds in the AFC playoffs. A FOX Sports graphic during Thursday Night Football declared that the Broncos were “in the hunt,” which led many on social media to respond with their knives of sarcasm sharpened.

But the Broncos truly are in the hunt.

They responded by gathering their arrows and firing.

They responded by getting mad.

Mad about the four-game losing streak in October that nearly sunk their season.

Mad about being reminded that until this day, all of their wins had come against the NFL’s junior varsity.

Mad about watching Miller, one of their team leaders and most popular players, say goodbye.

And when the mighty Cowboys arrogantly went for it on fourth down twice, believing they would have all the chances they needed to overcome failure, their anger, their resilience and their tenacity turned the tables and gave the Broncos their biggest non-strike regular-season upset since at least 1978.

That’s how far pro-football-reference’s database of point spreads goes. The Broncos, 10-point underdogs at kickoff Sunday, had the kind of spread-overturning game that the franchise had only experienced in Super Bowl XXXII and during a replacement game against the then-Los Angeles Raiders during the 1987 players strike.

The Broncos came into the Metroplex as underdogs fighting for survival.

Then they got mad.

And they left alive and very much well in the AFC West.

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