DENVER -- This is all the fans wanted. Well, they wanted a win of course, and the headfirst placement of Houston’s Brock Osweiler into a wood chipper. But what they really sought after a pair of uninspired defeats was effort, physicality and emotion.
The Broncos won 27-9, providing a hand to the chest to a losing streak that inspired what-in-the-hell-just-happened reactions from a championship-spoiled region.
"We were intent on changing things," said safety T.J. Ward, who finished with team-high eight tackles. "We knew that Brock struggles with disguises. It affected him. We expect to play like this every week. We have our confidence back. We are on the up again."
This is what the Broncos are supposed to look like. They knew it. They heard it from their coach all week after Gary Kubiak returned to the sideline following his diagnosis of complex migraines. Cornerback Aqib Talib presented Kubiak with the game ball afterward. It was the bow on a night when they gave him a three-hour present of a highlight clip.
"Coaches get game balls when players play well. I am proud of them because I asked for them to do some things for me over the past 10,11 days to regroup," Kubiak said. "They responded."
Demaryius Thomas played like an undrafted rookie, every catch a referendum on his roster spot. C.J. Anderson pumped his legs like he was riding the Col Du Tourmalet in the Tour de France, helping the Broncos set a season-high in rushing yards with 190. When Houston showed a pulse offensively, safeties T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart sandwiched running back Alfred Blue, popping the football into linebacker Todd Davis’ hands to prevent a third-quarter score. And Trevor Siemian rediscovered an old friend – man coverage. He connected with Emmanuel Sanders on a 31-yard reception, who admitted "we were able to take our shots downfield tonight." It set up the Broncos first third quarter touchdown of the season, rookie Devontae Booker’s 1-yard plunge salting the game away.
"When we were watching film, we could talk about anything and what we see, and what we like to run," said Booker, whose first touchdown ball will likely to to his parents house in California. "We were running our butt off tonight and punishing defenders."
The win started with the start, the mundane made spectacular.
Ward sat in the corner of the locker room Saturday and took exception to the question. The Broncos aren’t slumping, and yes, they will correct their first quarter issues. On cue, the Broncos stopped Osweiler on his first possession. It foreshadowed an uncomfortable and unproductive evening for Osweiler, who threw for 46 yards in the first half, and turned a fastball into a knuckleball for a fourth-quarter fumble. By any definition, with any contract, he was awful. Osweiler finished 22 of 41 for 131 yards, the best part of his evening finding closure in Denver by hugging several Broncos players and coaches after the game.
"He's a good guy. We like Brock, but we came into this game with a plan. It wasn't even about what we saw last year," Talib said. "It was about watching the film and letting that dictate what we did tonight."
The Broncos entered Monday night having allowed 31 points on first drives. Only the Browns are worse. Anytime a team is mentioned in the same breath as Cleveland it screams market correction. The defense owned up to its mistakes, and fixed them, allowing a pair of 43-yard Nick Novak first-half field goals. However, the offense stared back with a cyclops eye. Denver has scored 13 first quarter points this season, and Denver’s minus-34 differential ranks worst in the NFL.
The Broncos held themselves back – literally. Referees called holding four times on the first four drives. Finally, mercifully after the nationally-televised Sunday night game, the Broncos gained traction on back-to-back possessions. They shoved the ball down the Texans’ throat with a 10-play, 75-yard drive, followed by a seven-play, 68-yard trudge to the end zone.
Siemian, who finished 14 for 25 for 157 yards, outplayed Osweiler. Siemian read blitzes, stepped up in the pocket and hit Sanders and Thomas for steady gains. The run game emerged from a spider cave. Denver eclipsed 150 early in the fourth quarter and had more at halftime than it did in the previous four games. Booker fueled the march and Anderson, back from an ankle injury, finished the first scoring drive with a 7-yard burst. It gave the Broncos their first lead in 22 days, a 7-6 advantage with 9:10 remaining in the half.
"I think we said all along that we need balance in this league to have success," said Siemian, who is enjoying a terrific week since he's a Chicago Cubs fan. "The guys upfront did a heck of a job."
The Broncos responded to prosperity with improved execution. Siemian hit Thomas on a 4-yard pass for a score, beating Kareem Jackson. Siemian finished the first half 10 of 16 for 102 yards, taking care of the ball while taking chances. Denver’s ability to set the tone on the ground opened up routes. Backed into a corner of criticism, Anderson, (107 yards on 16 carries) played with ferocity. He complemented Booker (83 yards on 17 carries), his bruising style playing off Booker's bursts.
When the Broncos took a 24-9 lead, it felt bigger because of Osweiler. He had no chance Monday, spending his time upset with receivers, running for his life or generally ineffective. He is better in the fourth quarters, but when you play like he did in the first 45 minutes, it doesn't matter.
"I would just say disappointment," Osweiler said. "It's extremely disappointing. We need to examine this tape extremely hard. We need to learn from it and get better."
In Osweiler’s defense, he no longer has Denver’s defense. And he stumbled clumsily into a hornet’s nest. Kubiak made this game personal 11 days ago, disappointed with his team’s effort and attitude.
Osweiler was simply caught in the crossfire. Brock to the Future replaced by a Broncos team gladly living in the past of last season’s blueprint.
"If we can run the football with the way our defense is playing and if me and Demaryius make our plays we are going to be tough to beat," said Sanders, who wore a country swag outfit to the game inspired by his bull-riding relatives from Texas. "It starts with the running game. And you saw what happened."
- Linebacker Brandon Marshall hurt his leg in the second half. He returned earlier in the game after suffering a stinger in his shoulder.
- The Broncos’ inactives included Shiloh Keo and receiver Cody Latimer. Rookie safety Justin Simmons took Keo’s snaps.
- Texans’ offensive lineman Derek Newton suffered a gruesome injury, rupturing patella tendons in both his knees while trying to hold off a Von Miller pass rush in the first half, according to NFL Network.
- Derek Wolfe is an animal. He suffered leg cramps and dislocated his finger on the same play. He barely missed any time as he popped his finger back into place. "I do it all the time. Look at my hands," said Wolfe, showing crooked fingers.
- The Broncos haven’t lost three consecutive games or back-to-back home games since 2011.
- Denver linebacker Dekoda Watson left the game with a concussion, but appeared OK in the locker room afterward.
- Texans coach Bill O'Brien on the loss: "I think everyone has to do a better job from coaching to playing."
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