4 Key Takeaways From Broncos' 18-12 Victory Over Patriots
The old saying goes, 'I'd rather win ugly than lose pretty.' That probably describes the Denver Broncos' mindset after Sunday's 18-12 upset win over the New England Patriots.
After a one-week delay and questions as to whether the game would be moved again because of Patriots players going on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, with at least one who tested positive for the virus (ex-Broncos center James Ferentz), the show went on.
And then the unexpected happened: The Broncos not only came out swinging, but they were also landing blows more often than not. They put the Patriots into a hole in the first half, forcing the host team to find ways to come from behind.
The Broncos nearly gave it away thanks to costly turnovers and some questionable play-calling (we'll get to both shortly), but the defense came up big on the final plays, despite some creative play-calling by the Patriots.
One thing was clear: The delay didn't do anything to help the Patriots, who were sloppy to start the game and had to reshuffle the offensive line with Ferentz out, then reshuffle again after a starter was injured.
What did we learn from the highlights and lowlights of the Broncos' Week 6 performance?
1. Defensive Players Stepping Up in Relief of Others
The Broncos lost veterans Von Miller and Jurrell Casey, both with multiple Pro Bowl nods on their respective resumes, for the season to injury and have been without A.J. Bouye, Dre'Mont Jones, and DeMarcus Walker for several games.
But other defensive players have risen to the occasion, and those players stood out against the Patriots.
Defensive lineman Shelby Harris has been terrific over the past few weeks. Against the Pats, he tipped two more passes, one that led to an interception by DeShawn Williams, and a second one that was key to stopping a drive. More plays like this could lead to Harris landing the big payday he was hoping for during the offseason, but never came.
Rookie cornerback Michael Ojemudia has been tested a lot, but he's making the grade. He forced one fumble in the second quarter that went out of bounds, then a second fumble that Justin Simmons was quick to recover. Though Ojemudia has his share of mistakes, it's clear the Broncos have a special player.
Rush linebacker Bradley Chubb is getting back into form, but he got some help today. Malik Reed notched two sacks and Anthony Chickillo — signed off the New Orleans practice squad — added another. Neither Reed nor Chickillo is as good as Miller obviously, but they've shown they can step up and make plays. Chickillo, in particular, showed great patience in noticing Cam Newton was holding onto the ball and not trying to get out of the pocket, leading to the sack.
Also of note was cornerback Bryce Callahan picking off a pass, after a ball was tipped by Simmons, and Kareem Jackson making key stops in the running game. It was good to see Jackson come up big after he had a slow start to the season.
Just imagine how good this Broncos defense would be if everyone was healthy.
2. Lindsay not Going Quiet Into That Good Night
After missing three games with a toe injury, Phillip Lindsay got the bulk of the carries with Melvin Gordon being scratched because of strep throat. Lindsay got it done, averaging 4.4 yards per carry on 23 attempts, with his longest rush at 20 yards.
One can debate whether Lindsay or Gordon is the better back, but it's clear Lindsay can still get it done on the field. If only Royce Freeman — who has been playing a lot with Lindsay, then Gordon, sidelined — could add more of a punch.
But imagine how good the Broncos rushing attack could be once both Lindsay and Gordon are healthy. The two have played together for just one half of football this season. Having both in the lineup for four quarters could go a long way to giving the Broncos offense a lethal rushing attack.
3. Up and Down Lock
The good news is that Drew Lock showed no ill effects from his shoulder injury a couple of weeks ago. He makes the Broncos' offense much better, between knowing how to recognize what the defense is calling and his ability to stretch the field. The latter was on display on multiple occasions and gave the Broncos offense a boost.
It wasn't a perfect day for Lock, though — and I'm not simply talking about his costly fourth-quarter interceptions. Early in the game, he tried to force passes into the end zone rather than take what the Patriots defense was giving him. He still needs to work on his decision making and being patient.
Not everything was Lock's fault, though. Rookie tight end Albert Okwuegbanum dropped what would have been a touchdown pass and wideout DaeSean Hamilton let what might have been a touchdown bounce off his chest. The Broncos were missing starting tight end Noah Fant and both Tim Patrick and Jerry Jeudy got banged up during the game, but that's when it's time for others to step up and execute.
And while one can debate the call to pass the ball on 3rd-&-11 late in the game while nursing a multi-score lead — and whether the fault lay with Lock or Patrick on the resulting interception — the second of Lock's two picks was on the coaching staff. No way do you throw the ball on 1st-&-10 when it's time to kill the clock and your young QB literally just threw a game-changing pick on the last offensive snap.
The jury is still out on Lock as being the Broncos' long-term guy. We only know what we knew after the first game: The potential is there, not everything is his fault, but he still has some things to clean up with his game.
4. McManus is Money, Broncos Red-Zone Offense is Not
We've heard this one before: The Broncos get into the red zone and can't punch it in. Today, it was mostly about execution, whether it was a receiver dropping a pass, the offensive line not blocking or Lock trying to force an issue.
Thank goodness Brandon McManus came through. He was perfect on six field-goal attempts, setting a new Broncos record for the most field goals in a game.
That included a 54-yard field goal after Patriots head coach Bill Belichick opted to decline an illegal hands-to-the-face penalty on right tackle Demar Dotson. Some might have wondered whether it was smart to let McManus have an opportunity there, away from the thin air of Mile High.
On one hand, McManus is earning that extension he signed before the start of the season. On the other hand, the Broncos can't afford to let touchdown opportunities be wasted like this again — especially with the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs up next.