DENVER - Long before kickoff with fans walking around the stadium wearing astronaut helmets, hats with horns and enough orange for a sunset, the emotion was unmistakable.
The Broncos mattered again. With three straight wins, their appearance on prime time brought curiosity, not cringes. Denver had found a road to redemption through an opportunistic defense and just good-enough offense. The elasticity of this strategy nearly snapped against the scalding Vikings.
But Denvers climb into contention continued as the Broncos triumphed 21-20 before 75,000 racuous fans at Empower Field at Mile High.
The Broncos took over facing a sobering reality with 3:12 remaining. They trailed 20-15. On fourth-and-3 from the 32, a gasp returned as the Vikings were called for interference on fourth-and-3 on a Courtland Sutton catch. Then Samaje Perine took over on check downs as he gobbled chunks of yardage in the margins
. On first-and-10 from the 15, Wilson gravitated to his favorite target, lofting a 50-50 ball in Courtland Suttons direction. He skied for the pigskin, outmuscling the defender for his eighth touchdown of the season, a career-high. It moved the Broncos ahead 21-20 with 1:03 remaining as the Javonte Williams rush on the two-point conversion failed.
Joshua Dobbs, The Passtronaut, took over at the 25-yard line, trying to position Minnesota for its sixth straight win on a field goal. He was a mess when it mattered most as Denver won a fourth straight game for the first time since 2016 to level its record to 5-5.
There were plenty of moments to assign blame throughout the game the illegal formation, the inability of a diving Jerry Jeudy to hold onto a touchdown pass, the blown coverage on third-and-20 but it comes down to this. The Broncos left themselves vulnerable when they failed to maximize their defense. In their last seven takeaways they have produced 15 points. And yet they slithered away.
Field goals lose games. And that hung over them in what felt like a must-win to reach the playoffs. But these Broncos are not your brothers or fathers Broncos.
It began with a smile. And finished with one.
Just when Broncos Country thought they could not fathom a better start, Denvers defense dropped its fangs and produced its second straight takeaway on the games first possession. Joshua Dobbs attempted to run, and Kareem Jackson launched into quarterback, his helmet into the quarterbacks facemask as Baron Browning stripped the ball. It popped into JaQuan McMillians hands he ripped the ball away from James Cook on the first play on Monday night as Denver took over.
The resulting possession produced only a field goal, spoiled by Danielle Hunters league-best 12th
sack. Replays also showed that Jackson, returning from a suspension, four separate fines and two ejections, led with his helmet, meaning the league is likely to review regarding a fine or additional lengthy discipline.
Lost in the Broncos breathtaking, chaotic win over the Bills was a dirty secret. Denvers rush defense was leaking oil again because of poor tackling. It surfaced on Sunday as the Vikings bullied Denver early on. Minnesota had 71 yards rushing in the first quarter. They averaged 85 per game. On third-and-1 from the 3-yard line, Dobbs made magic, scrambling right, and ducking out of a sack by Jonathon Cooper and firing a dart to tight end Josh Oliver for the score, capping a 10-play, 65-yard drive.
Trailing 7-3 early in the second, the Broncos continued their misery on third down. Russell Wilson made mistake of scrambling laterally as Denver was forced to punt again. While Denvfer failed to convert its first three third downs, Minnesota boast a 50 percent rate on its first six, including Dobbs hitting Brandon Powell in front of outside linebacker Nik Bonitto. Moments later, Dobbs found T.J. Hockenson with a rainbow 29-yarder as Justin Simmons fell in coverage. Cooper did not miss on his next sack opportunity, slamming Dobbs to the turf to force a 34-yard field goal from Greg Joseph.
Facing a 10-3 deficit, it was time for the offense to awaken from its slumber. Wilson connected with Jeudy for a first down and delivered a 33-yard strike to Courtland Sutton down the far sideline. It was short-lived as coach Sean Payton decided to stay conservative and kick on fourth-and-2 from the 12-yard line. Lutzs second field shaved the deficit to 10-6 with 4:08 remaining in the half. But bad signs hovered as the Broncos remained 0-for-4 on third down and 0-for-2 in the red zone.
The Broncos finished with a flourish. Taking over with 1:11 remaining, Wilson connected on two passes for 33 yards to Adam Trautman as the tight end position showed production for the first time this season. With 11 seconds left from the 34-yard line, Wilson lost his focus, trying to connect with Jerry Jeudy in double coverage. Jeudy turned into a cornerback, knocking the sure interception free and celebrating with the sword placement. Lutz jogged on and drilled a 52-yard at the buzzer as Denver trailed 10-9 at half.
It was a bit of a win given that the Broncos allowed 85 yards rushing, 4 of 8 third down conversions, while failing to convert once on third down in five attempts. They didnt convert their first third down until the fourth quarter.
Broncos began third quarter showing how they are living on edge offensively, any penalty sabotaging drives. A Marvin Mims Jr. first down was erased by a Nate Adkins holding on first drive, leaving Denver O-fer on third down. Minnesota capitalized on its first opportunity of the half, a Pat Surtain II interference penalty erasing an interception and setting up a field goal. Ground Control to Major Dobbs continued as he eluded sack by D.J. Jones and a tackle by Baron Browning to scoot in for a 10-yard score, shoving Minnesota ahead 17-9 with 7:55 left in the third. It felt bigger because of the Broncos inept offense. Denver had yet to convert a third down as the fourth quarter approached.
The defense refused to break even as Minnesota trampled in the run game. With the season teetering, the Broncos delivered their 11th
takeaway in three games with the Vikings in field goal range. D.J Jones poked the ball away from Alexander Mattison as Josey Jewell pounced. A field goal followed. That was theme of night.
Moments later, McMillian, the most popular pirate since Johnny Depp, delivered his second pick and fourth turnover in his last three games. What looked like a lead forthcoming turned empty quickly. Marvin Mims Jr was flagged for a facemask to put the Broncos behind the stick. From the 10-yard line, Wilson fired in Jerry Jeudys direction. He dived and had his mitts on the ball, but former practice squad defensive back Joejuan Williams tugged at Jeudys right arm as ball sprung loose. It led to Lutzs latest boot, leaving Vikings ahead 17-15 with 10:37 remaining.
This is the type of game the Broncos have lost the past seven years. They wallowed in the disappointment, played the victim. But this is a new team. A new time. The Broncos, if only barely, are back in contention.
Cornerback Riley Moss has finally earned some run. The rookie from Iowa replaced Damarri Mathis in the dime package.
The Broncos inactives were Ronnie Perkins, Alex Forsyth, P.J. Locke, Ben Niemann, Thomas Incoom and Elijah Garcia. Rookie safety JL Skinner was active for the first time with Locke out and Kareem Jackson returning to the starting lineup. The Broncos went with three outside linebackers Baron Browning, Jonathon Cooper, Nik Bonitto meaning Drew Sanders was a safety valve at the position.
Defensive end Zach Allen hurt his back when slammed into by Alex Singleton on a tackle.
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