It’s been a while since we’ve seen this Broncos team in action. After 17 days between games, Denver went to Foxborough and beat Cam Newton and the Patriots to pick up their second win on the season.
Before we jump into our game recap and review, let’s give a quick 2020 COVID-19 Season update for the Broncos. In week 3, the Broncos beat the lowly Jets on Thursday Night Football. They were then scheduled to play the Patriots the following week. After a slew of positive tests in New England (including Cam Newton and Stephon Gilmore), the game was initially pushed to Monday night of week five. However, positive tests continued to arise from the Patriots, and the game was officially postponed. The NFL did some schedule shuffling and deemed week five a bye week for both the Broncos and Patriots, unfortunately this news came after a full week of practice essentially negating their “byes”. The rescheduling also affected games versus the Dolphins and Chargers, which will now be played on 11/22 and 11/1 respectively. As the Broncos were preparing to travel to New England, they learned that RB coach Curtis Modkins tested positive. Rather than continuing to postpone the game, Coach Modkins stayed home and the team quarantined in Boston. Not to mention there was also the news of Melvin Gordon’s DUI just a few days prior to the game. It was certainly a weird week in Broncos Country, but Denver found a way to overcome all of the obstacles and stole a game in New England against Bill Belichick. Now, let’s jump into our normal post-game recap and review.
The Broncos won this game on the leg of Brandon McManus and their defense, beating the Patriots 18-12 and bringing their record to 2-3 on this wild 2020 season. In a game that featured the return of quarterback Drew Lock and running back Philip Lindsay, the offense struggled to finish their drives, but was successful in moving the ball. Meanwhile, their defense disrupted Cam Newton and was able to force three turnovers.
It was a very promising first quarter from the Broncos. They started things off with a 48 yard drive that ended in a 45-yard field goal from McManus. Lock was taking shots downfield and looked really comfortable. Unfortunately a few catchable balls fell to the ground in the endzone (a theme of the day) which led to only getting three points. Then Cam Newton took over after not being able to play in the Patriots last game due to testing positive for COVID-19. On the sixth play of the drive, Newton’s pass was deflected by none other than Shelby Harris at the line of scrimmage. As the ball was floating to the ground, DeShawn Williams, a 6’1” 292lbs lineman, made a great diving catch for the interception. The Broncos weren’t able to muster much offense after the turnover, but did come away with another field goal, this time a 44-yard kick from McManus.
The Broncos defense played great on Sunday. After going up 6-0, the defense forced a New England punt and gave Lock the ball. The second year quarterback led us down the field, but we were once again unable to score a touchdown in the red zone. Lock continued to fire catchable balls into the endzone, but was unable to connect. A 27-yard field goal from McManus put Denver up 9-0 early in the second quarter.
The first half ended with the Broncos and Patriots trading field goals. First it was Nick Folk, who connected from 41 yards away to put the Patriots on the board. Then McManus responded with a 52-yard bomb that put the Broncos up 12-3 at halftime. The Broncos scored on all of their first half possessions, unfortunately each drive only resulted in a field goal.
It was more of the same to start the second half. The Broncos forced a three-and-out, then methodically worked their way into field goal range for McManus. This time it was a 20-yard chip shot that the eighth year kicker easily made, putting Denver up 15-3.
Denver defense then forced their second of three turnovers in the game. Michael Ojemudia, the Iowa rookie, forced a fumble that Justin Simmons was able to scoop up for the Broncos. The turnover gave Denver the ball on New England’s 44 yard line. After a few unsuccessful plays, McManus did it again. He converted a 54-yard field goal, which would ultimately be his last of the day after going 6/6 and scoring all 18 points for Denver.
It was 18-3 at the end of the third quarter when Newton threw an interception to Bryce Callahan on the first play of the drive. However, for the first time all day the Broncos were unable to score and had to punt the ball. The teams would then trade punts until Newton was able to run it for a touchdown, the only one of the day for either team, with 8:31 left in the game. A missed two-point conversion made the game 18-12.
The next two Bronco possessions had the same end-result. Lock threw two interceptions on back to back passing attempts, which New England was able to convert into only three points thanks to the defense. With the game 18-12 and the Patriots threatening, the Broncos needed one more stop. Newton drove down the field into the red zone with just :59 seconds left in the game. However, Vic Fangio brought a double safety blitz on fourth down and the Patriots were unable to convert. The Broncos were able to take a knee and escape what could have been another gut-punch loss.
Against all the odds, the Broncos flew back home to Denver with a big upset win under their belt. Now, they have a chance to get to 3-3, but will have to go through Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs next week.
There’s a lot to breakdown in this game. After a week full of unknowns, it was a miracle that this game was even played. It may have been even crazier that the Broncos were able to beat Bill Belichick without scoring a touchdown. Let’s get right into my 10 takeaways from this game:
Lock’s Return – Stats Don’t Tell the Whole Story:
Let’s start with the return of Drew Lock. If you’ve followed along this season, you know I’m a big Drew Lock fan. I think he will be the franchise QB and will solve Elway’s QB woes. That being said, Sunday was a mixed bag. Things started off well. Most importantly, he looked healthy and comfortable. It didn’t look like the shoulder injury that he suffered in week two was bothering him at all. Lock was taking deep shots all game and you could just see how different the offense is with him at the helm. His box score wasn’t great though. He ended Sunday’s contest 10/24 with 189 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions. That’s bad on paper. However, it felt like he could have had 300 yards passing and at least two touchdowns. He was putting the ball right on his receiver’s hands all game long. There were at least three dropped passes in the endzone and others during critical moments. He was in control of this game and it shouldn’t have even been this close. Lock was making throws that no other QB on the Broncos roster can make. There were some terrible moments though. There were a few too many shots downfield, especially at the end when we had the lead and Philip Lindsay back. I don’t know if that’s the play calling or Lock, but it was definitely head-scratching. His two interceptions were also not good. The first was just a bad read combined with a nice defensive play. The second was deflected, but Lock was forcing a ball into double coverage. There is a lot of work to be done for Lock, but it’s a lot easier to learn from your mistakes after a win. It was just nice to see him back out their making plays.
Welcome Back Philip Lindsay!:
Let’s stick with players making their return from injury. Like Lock, running back Philip Lindsay made his return after suffering an injury earlier in the season. It was so nice to see No. 30 breaking arm tackles and running with that unparalleled desire again. The former CU Buff ran the ball a total of 23 times and tallied 101 yards rushing. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry and looked like the Lindsay we all know and love. The Broncos are now 6-0 when Lindsay rushes for more than 100 yards a game, which seems like a no-brainer winning strategy to me. It does need to be noted that Melvin Gordon missed this game so Lindsay was the main guy. Gordon didn’t miss the game due to his DUI earlier in the week, but he stayed in Denver with strep throat. There will be a lot of debates about who the better back is, but it’s clear Lindsay is still the main guy if you ask me.
Tough Day in the Red Zone:
Thank goodness for Brandon McManus. The Broncos offense was great at getting into scoring chances, but was miserable when it came to executing. Whether it was a dropped pass, a missed blocking assignment, or a forced pass from Lock, the Broncos just couldn’t convert. This has been a problem for a few years now, but it was magnified Sunday. This needs to be something that gets fixed if the Broncos want to make the playoffs. If McManus even kicks four times instead of six, this is a completely different game. Not scoring touchdowns certainly won’t work next week against Kansas City.
Brandon McManus had quite the day. Going off of our last point, McManus saved the Broncos on Sunday. He was automatic. It didn’t matter if it was from 20, 30, 40, or 50 yards. McManus was locked in, much like he has been this entire season. There was some rumblings about moving on from him this offseason. He wanted to be a distance kicker but struggled from 50+ yards last season. Well a new contract and some big kicks has completely flipped that narrative. The soon to be AFC Special Teams player of the week set a Broncos record after going 6/6. Not a bad Sunday for one of the longest tenured Broncos.
While McManus provided the offense, the defense stole the show. In his second year at the helm, Vic Fangio’s scheme is starting to pay dividends. The Broncos forced three turnovers and could have had more. They had two interceptions, four forced fumbles, four sacks, and made life as hard as possible for Cam Newton and the Patriots. It does need to be noted that the Patriots had a patchwork offensive line due to injuries and positive tests, but the Broncos took full advantage. I’m convinced that Cam Newton has PTSD from the Broncos and Super Bowl 50. While it wasn’t Von Miller making Newton uneasy this time, Bradley Chubb and Malik Reed did their best Von impersonations and really stepped up. The Broncos held the Patriots to just two field goals and one late touchdown, but limited the big plays. That is winning football. The defense will have their hands full again next week with Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Vic Fangio a Confirmed Blitzer Now?:
I have never thought of Vic Fangio has being much of a blitzer. He didn’t do it much in Chicago and was conservative last season. However, Fangio assured the media in a press conference last week that he was once considered to be the most notorious blitzer in the NFL, but changed his style due to personnel. Well, he’s going back to his old ways and it’s paying off. With injuries to key pass rushers Von Miller and Jurrell Casey, Fangio has dialed up the heat. These last two games have been filled with blitzes. Some are standard blitzes, but others are creative and obviously catching the offense off-guard. His double safety blitz on fourth down at the end of the game was a massive call that paid off. I love that Fangio has started calling more blitzes. It can be risky, but Denver’s defense has been better because of the aggressive play-calling.
Broncos Have a Fighter’s Mentality:
One of the biggest takeaways to me is that this Denver team is not going to go quietly into the night. They will keep fighting until the bitter end. The Broncos could have easily made up excuses and not shown up to play, but they did the exact opposite. They rolled with every crazy schedule change, positive test, injury, and unknown to win this game. Everyone counted them out before the game even kicked off. Heck, they were even nine point underdogs on Sunday. It’s so refreshing to see this team have heart and scratch their way to a win.
Role Players Came to Play:
I could have written up numerous blurbs about different players stepping up in this one, but I’m just going to combine them all into one. For starters, Michael Ojemudia deserves a ton of credit for his play on Sunday. Ojemudia has had a couple of rough moments, but bounced back and played a phenomenal game against the Pats. He finished with two forced fumbles, seven tackles, and one pass deflection. He was all over the field and looks to be a steal for Denver. Alongside Ojemudia, was Bryce Callahan who also played exceptionally well. For context, Julian Edleman had just two catches for eight yards. Another rookie that stepped up was Albert Okwuegbunam, or Albert O for short. Without Noah Fant, the Missouri prospect had a big role to fill in his debut. While his stats weren’t eye-popping – just two catches for 45 yards – his chemistry with Lock was. Okwuegbunam was Lock’s go-to target in the red zone and easily could have two touchdowns, but the ball slipped through his fingers each time. It’s obvious that Lock knows where he is and where to put the ball for big Albert O. Shelby Harris also deserves recognition per usual. Harris was rock solid again and knocked down two passes, one of which was hauled in for an interception. I also want to shoutout Tim Patrick. I mentioned that he had a breakout game vs the Jets, well he followed it up with another 100 yard game. He’s been great lift without Courtland Sutton. There are a lot of other players that deserve “helmet stickers” for this game, but I don’t want to go on forever. Players like Garrett Bolles, Malik Reed, Justin Simmons, all deserve some love after their performances.
4th Quarter Near Meltdown:
While the win was great, we do have to address that the Broncos only played three great quarters of football. Unfortunately, they had a miserable fourth quarter and almost let this one slip away. I’m sure a lot of Broncos Country were having some flashbacks as the Patriots were making their final drive down the field. Lock’s two fourth quarter interceptions didn’t help those uneasy feelings either. Luckily, the Broncos finally found a way to win a close game. Hopefully this changes the tide and the Broncos have overcome that late-game hump that they seemed to be cursed with. They do need to learn how to play a complete game if they want to be in the playoff race this season.
As always, our last takeaway is looking ahead to next week’s opponent. Unfortunately, it’s a date with AFC West rival and the reigning Super Bowl Champ Kansas City Chiefs. They almost seem to be sleep-walking through the season after a surprising upset from the Raiders last week. That being said, they have a tough Monday night matchup vs the Bills as this is being written and they’re ultimately still the Chiefs. The game is in Denver, which is great after a hectic couple of weeks for the Broncos. Fingers crossed this game actually does happen as KC has had some positive tests emerge over the last couple of weeks, but has been able to play albeit schedule changes. It’ll be interesting to see how Fangio schemes for Mahomes. Will he keep bringing pressure? Or will he revert to dropping more men in coverage to account for all of the Chiefs weapons? We also need to see how this offense responds in the red zone next week. You know that’s going to be a point of emphasis in practice. Regardless, it’s going to be tough to slow Kansas City down. Drew Lock and the offense are going to have to score touchdowns, not just field goals, and play mistake-free football.
Let me know what you think of my game review and what you’re looking forward to watching next week vs Kansas City over on Twitter @gardenSPORTZ