In Sunday night's tilt vs. the Minnesota Vikings, it became clear that the Denver Broncos were going to have to orchestrate another comeback within the fine margins to stretch their winning streak to four games. Earlier in the day, the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders both dropped games to pile even more importance on the Broncos' bout with the Vikings.
The huge inherent issue with playing things so tight to those razor-thin margins is that nearly everything has to go perfectly to plan when the chips are down. The Broncos got just enough out of their key players to truly jump into the AFC playoff race with a hard-fought 21-20 victory over the Vikings.
As the Broncos won their fourth straight, it snapped Minnesota's heretofore five-game winning streak. What did we learn from the Broncos' fourth straight victory?
Let's dive in.
Winning the turnover battle, despite the Broncos' offense failing to covert the defense's three takeaways into touchdowns, sets the winning tone for Sean Payton's never-say-die squad. Certainly, coordinator Vance Joseph's bend-but-don't-break defense needed every last bit of its elasticity to get through, but survival is an art in itself.
Russell Wilson didn't get the offense into the end zone until Denver's final possession of the game, so the importance of the defense hanging tough to give them a puncher's chance simply cannot be underestimated.
Down the stretch on Sunday night, veteran safety Justin Simmons, on his 30th birthday, came up with a pair of spectacular plays when isolated on Minnesota's go-to tight end T.J. Hockenson to rally and knock the ball away. Cornerback Ja'Quan McMillan also continues to display his impressive ball-hawking instincts and physical approach, with an interception and fumble recovery.
It's a recipe for success, but it's one that frequently leaves Broncos Country reaching en masse for some indigestion remedies and blood-pressure meds, but as long as it works, everyone will merrily choke it all down.
Russ & Sutton Continue to Cook
Bookmark the burgeoning bromance between quarterback Wilson and veteran wide receiver Courtland Sutton. Bonding over hard work that produces results is translating to dazzling performances in crunchtime for Denver's well-seasoned team captains.
Levels of trust are pivotal to this duo's current success, especially when Wilson gets put in a late-game pickle. Sutton responded with a one-handed grab on a crucial 4th-&-3 conversion, then high-pointed the ball on the game-winning touchdown reception could only be described as a thing of beauty. Chemistry, which didn't materialize last year, is now dripping off the duo. Wilson and Sutton are even vibing during post-game interviews.
Add into the mix just how important running back Samaje Perine is becoming as a vital release valve on must-have drives, and the Broncos have no reason to fear pushing for the winner's circle moving forward.
In Sean Payton, We Trust
Amid the Broncos' mission to metamorphosize back into winners, it's become clear that Coach Payton will not blink under even the most intense pressure. When Payton sends his offensive unit out onto the field as the flak is flying, the Broncos now look like they share his cool, calm confidence.
Even leaving over a minute on the clock after taking the lead showed that Payton also has confidence in his defense getting a crucial stop when the Broncos absolutely have to have it. Denver's performance on Sunday night was far from perfect, as evidenced by the Vikings brilliantly managing to execute their fourth-quarter fake punt, or the offense's inability to capitalize in the red zone, or convert on third down.
Furthermore, Vikings quarterback Joshua Dobbs was given far too much rope, until the Broncos took a more aggressive approach to slowing him down. Particularly in the first half, poor tackling technique let the Broncos down rather badly.
That being said, huge credit goes to Payton and the Broncos' coaching staff for turning things around in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter. On another day, and under many previous coaching regimes, the Broncos would have undoubtedly folded in on themselves.
The capitulations of yore were built on mental frailties and a core lack of belief — all of which are rapidly being related to the dustbin of Broncos history as Payton's team continues to defy the naysayers and beat quality opponents.
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