The Denver Broncos once again defied the oddsmakers, knocking off the Los Angeles Chargers 28-13 on Sunday. The Broncos move to 6-5 on the season — the same record as the Chargers.
There's now a three-way tie for second place in the AFC West among the Broncos, Chargers, and Raiders. And the Kansas City Chiefs hold just a one-game lead and that's who the Broncos draw next on the schedule.
In what was just Denver's second divisional game of the season, the team once again played with fire, smothering the opponent for the most part. What did we learn? Let's dive into Week 12's takeaways
Fangio Deserves Credit
Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
Faced with a must-win scenario, Broncos Country wasn't putting a lot of faith in the Broncos to put the brakes on quarterback Justin Herbert and the Chargers. Well, those who doubted Denver were wrong, and credit goes to head coach Vic Fangio for discovering a defensive formula that so obviously suited his available talent.
Fangio's reputation as a defensive genius has taken a weely beating this season, so he will be grinning from ear to ear when he sits down to review the tape of this victory. His decision to mix in more zone coverages was wise, creating uncertainty for Herbert, who eventually capitulated and tossed up knock-out pick-six to rookie first-round cornerback Patrick Surtain II.
Stellar defensive performances also came from fellow rookies in linebacker Baron Browning and safety Caden Sterns, all of whom look like starting players for the Broncos already. Browning, in particular, was all over the field making plays on Sunday and the energy he provided seemed to inspire his teammates.
Broncos fans have long waited for Fangio to grab the controls of the defense and come up with a more cohesive strategy. Perhaps the answer always was to plug in younger, more energized players and tweak the system to fit their abilities from day one. GM George Paton has also provided some new ammunition in the shape of linebacker Kenny Young who's brought much-needed energy to a room that was badly needing it.
Bradley Chubb's return to the action was more symbolic if anything, but it also provided some inspiration to the locker room as he pumped up his teammates by addressing them before the game. Given the up-and-down performances of the defense, it's too early to say that the penny has finally dropped, but if the Broncos can duplicate this performance next week in Kansas City, it'd give this team a fighting chance.
Williams is the Truth
Broncos fans are giddy over their love for second-round rookie running back Javonte Williams. In the warm afterglow of Sunday's highlight-reel performance, the rookie delivered a masterclass as his number was called time and time again.
Williams is too much for Denver's coaching staff to ignore. Leading into this game, Fangio remained stoic in his determination to play both Williams and Melvin Gordon to keep them fresh. Sound reasoning, no doubt, but Williams appears to be getting stronger and stronger as the season progresses.
What really stood out vs. the Chargers was the rookie's ability to also catch the ball and make people miss in the open field as he romped downfield on one reception for a huge 42-yard gain. Game-changing talent is a tag that can be thrust upon rookies prematurely, but in the case of Williams, it feels like he's just scratching the surface of what he's capable of achieving.
Already gaining national attention for his angry tackle-breaking runs, Williams is proving himself to be much more than just a ramrod with which Denver can wear down opposing defenses. He can also provide some additional lighting strikes that can gut defenses and leave them breathless.
Fans will likely bang the drum even more loudly for Williams to get more touches the rest of the way, but still expect Gordon to still get the start and his fair share of the workload, especially if the formula delivers wins. Credit also has to go to Mike Munchak's coaching skills for being able to patch up a massively battered and depleted offensive line that helped Williams and Gordon rush for a combined 137 yards.
The hogs upfront love blocking for an all-action back like Williams and they played above themselves to compensate for another slew of untimely injuries to the likes of starting left guard Dalton Risner and stop-gap left tackle Calvin Anderson.
Williams finished Week 12 with 111 yards from scrimmage and one rushing touchdown.
Lock not Trustworthy
In the wake of all the debate surrounding Drew Lock this season, shortly before halftime, the entirety of Broncos Country finally received its epiphany. Playing in relief of the hobbled Teddy Bridgewater, Lock's remit was straightforward and hinged on him not making any stupid mistakes.
Instead, Lock decided once again to allow all the blood in his body to rush to his head, forcing an ill-advised throw to Kendall Hinton which was picked off by Chargers safety Derwin James. Herbert, after being gift-wrapped a short field, predictably cut the Broncos 14-0 lead in half, wresting all the positive energy away from the Broncos, who'd previously been in firm control of the proceedings.
In a must-win game, having a key player make such a boneheaded play likely settles any lingering arguments that the coaches had somehow done wrong with their decision to start Teddy. What will frustrate Broncos Country the most is whether Lock is even capable of coming out of the bullpen to protect a lead, never mind starting.
Furthermore, it certainly wouldn't come as much of a surprise to see third-stringer Brett Rypien leapfrog Lock on the depth chart to be Teddy's backup moving forward. Looking long-term, the answer at QB is probably not Bridewater either, who himself is not that far removed from making an extremely poor in-game decision.
But in a game the Broncos simply had to have, Bridgewater did show enough guts and leadership to keep his guys focused, overcoming Lock's major gaffe and keeping the team in the playoff hunt.
Follow Keith on Twitter @KeithC_NFL.
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