Defense saves the day in Denver; Broncos beat Vikings 23-20
DENVER (AP) Broncos safety T.J. Ward swept around the end untouched and took a swipe at Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
The ball came loose and Von Miller pounced on it.
For the fourth time in four games, defense nailed down the win for Denver. On Sunday, Ward forced a turnover with 29 seconds left to stop a Vikings drive and wrap up a 23-20 victory.
''We're not really finding ways to win, we're making ways to win,'' Ward said.
Ward's sack was the seventh of the game for the Broncos (4-0), who came into Week 4 ranked third in sacks (11) and first in overall defense.
Of Denver's four wins, only one has been by more than a touchdown. Every game has featured a forced turnover in the last four minutes with the Broncos tied or up by less than a touchdown.
All of which is giving Peyton Manning plenty of time to find his way in the new offense being run under coach Gary Kubiak. Manning struggled again Sunday, finishing 17 for 27 for 213 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
The second interception led to Minnesota's tying field goal with 5:16 left. But Manning answered by completing two passes for 28 yards on the next drive to lead to a 39-yard field goal by Brandon McManus for the winning points.
The Vikings dropped to 2-2. Manning improved to 4-0 for an NFL-record seventh time.
''You don't want mistakes to happen, but when they do, you want to be able to overcome them,'' Manning said. ''I think we did that today.''
Things we learned from Denver's win over Minnesota:
HILLMAN CAN, TOO: Adrian Peterson wasn't the only running back with breakaway speed in this game. Yes, Peterson busted a 48-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1 to make the score 20-17 in the fourth. But Ronnie Hillman of the Broncos also broke a long one. His 72-yard score was the longest touchdown run for the Broncos since 2006.
THE BRIDGE: If Bridgewater has a few more games like this, opposing defenses will put all the focus on Peterson at their own risk. Bridgewater threw for 269 yards and a score and also ran three times for 23 yards. He led the Vikings to scores after both Manning interceptions. His biggest problem: holding onto the ball too long. In Minnesota's two losses, he's been sacked 13 times; in the two wins - a grand total of once. ''This isn't a finger-pointing session,'' Bridgewater said. ''We're going to watch the tape tomorrow and we're going to make some corrections. We'll go from there.''
O-LINE HOLDS UP: The Broncos' juggled offensive line, which included tackle Ryan Harris moving from the right to left side and second-year tackle Michael Schofield starting on the right side in his first NFL action, was far from perfect. But it held up well enough to win. It held Vikings sack leader Everson Griffen to a single tackle. Outside of Hillman's 72-yard score, Denver's runners averaged 3.5 yards on 20 attempts - not great, but certainly easier to stomach considering Hillman did get loose for the touchdown.
AP'S WHIFF: Nobody will argue that Peterson gets paid to run the ball, not block. But when Peterson didn't see Ward blitzing and ran a screen pattern instead of putting his body on the Broncos safety, it led to the sack and strip of Bridgewater that spelled the end of the game. Peterson, who finished with 16 carries for 81 yards, was blaming nobody but himself. ''Put that on me,'' he said. ''We were in that moment and I've got to come through and make that block for Teddy.''
GOING FOR IT: With a three-point lead and facing fourth-and-goal from the 1 on the opening drive of the second half, Kubiak took almost no time to decide what he wanted to do. The team had practiced a play action pass from Manning to Owen Daniels a few times during the week for just that situation, and Daniels made the catch for a 20-10 lead. He has caught a pass in 107 straight games, longest streak in the league for a tight end. ''I think it's important right there,'' Kubiak said. ''We've got to be aggressive.''