ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The recharged Denver Broncos head into the season’s second half fresh off their biggest win since Super Bowl 50 and primed to meet GM George Paton’s challenge to move past Von Miller’s departure and end their long playoff drought.
The Broncos (5-4) pulled off one of the biggest shockers in the NFL this season with their shellacking of the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, a performance that was as unexpected as it was dominant.
“They whupped us in all areas,” Dak Prescott bemoaned after Denver turned four fourth-down stops into a 30-0 lead by the time the league’s most potent offense finally scored with four minutes left and much of the crowd of 93,503 already on the highways.
Six days after tearful goodbyes to Miller, who was sent to the Rams for a pair of high draft picks next year, the Broncos used the Cowboys’ disrespect as rocket fuel for their biggest win since Miller led them past Carolina 24-10 in Super Bowl 50.
“You take the field with a little anger, honestly,” Teddy Bridgewater said of the Cowboys going for it on fourth down on their first two drives. “It’s like, hey man, we are going for it because they said our offense is not going to score. We talked about it in the huddle and used it as motivation.”
The Broncos have converted 10 of 13 fourth-down tries this season while holding opponents to 4 of 16 on fourth down.
“They’re big,” third-year coach Vic Fangio said. “Everybody wants to go for it on fourth down, right? Fourth-and-1, fourth-and-2. They cite all of the numbers and so on and so forth. But when you don’t get them, it hurts, and we were the beneficiary of the hurts.”
The Broncos turned Dallas’ fourth-down follies into nine points in the kind of all-around performance that’s eluded them ever since Peyton Manning’s time.
The defensive stops and big early lead allowed offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to finally go hands-off on the hand-offs and the Broncos rumbled for nearly 200 yards while controlling the clock for more than 41 minutes.
“It was the first game when the offense and defense meshed really well together,” guard Dalton Risner said.
The Broncos would love to replicate that over the next eight games, five of which are against divisional foes in the tightly bunched AFC West, where the Chargers and Raiders are 5-3 and the Broncos and Chiefs are both 5-4.
What’s working for the Broncos
This rookie class. CB Patrick Surtain II has eight pass breakups and already is the team’s best cornerback. Pinballing RB Javonte Williams had a season-best 111 yards on 17 carries at Dallas, showing why Bridgewater compares him to Alvin Kamara. G Quinn Meinerz was one of four O-line fill-ins at Dallas and sprung Williams on his best run. LB Baron Browning is the defensive play-caller after a rash of injuries at linebacker. S Caden Stern’s interception Sunday was his second of the year in limited defensive duty. OLB Jonathon Cooper, Miller’s replacement, notched his first two career sacks Sunday. And Paton traded seventh-round CB Kay Vincent Jr., who was inactive for eight games in Denver, to the Eagles for a sixth-round selection in 2022.
What the team needs to work on
As always, Tom McMahon’s special teams’ units. It’s been the team’s weakest link for three straight seasons and Sunday was typically cringe-worthy with the Cowboys’ 54-yard return on the opening kickoff and the blocked punt by an unblocked defender that could have proven a game-changer.
Who has improved?
WR Tim Patrick, who has 34 catches for 509 yards and three TDs, including a 44-yard dagger at Dallas, and TE Albert Okwuegbunam, a fourth-round draft pick last year who’s proving every bit as good as 2019 first-round TE Noah Fant, who’s not as willing of a blocker.
Not looking so good
QB2 Drew Lock lost his starting job to Bridgewater in the summer and didn’t even go in for him at Cleveland last month when Bridgewater was hobbled by thigh and foot injuries and had an awful first half. Lock learned on the team’s flight Saturday that someone close to him had COVID-19 and he was upon landing he tested positive and was isolated.
Because he’s vaccinated, he can return after two negative tests 24 hours apart rather than having to wait at least 10 days like Aaron Rodgers, who’s unvaccinated and had to miss Green Bay’s showdown at Kansas City.
The Broncos lost starting ILBs Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson to torn chest muscles and OLB Bradley Chubb has only played 19 snaps all season. He’s due back from ankle surgery later this month. On offense, the Broncos lost WR KJ Hamler (knee) for the year and WR Jerry Jeudy (ankle) for six weeks. The Broncos finished Sunday with four backup O-linemen. RG Graham Glasgow broke his left leg on the last play of the first half.
The Broncos need to take care of Philadelphia (3-5) at home Sunday so they can head into their bye at 6-4.