INDIANAPOLIS -- The achievement, while too tardy to matter in the standings, deserves recognition. Fewer than 10 teams in NFL history have produced shutouts when sitting six games under .500. Broncos players insisted they believed in and respected first-year coach Vance Joseph. Last Sunday, they showed it with a smothering victory.
Joseph told Denver7 he has never questioned the effort.
"This team won't quit," Joseph said.
The victory, nonetheless, brought bittersweet emotions. The Broncos in general — and Joseph specifically — were reminded of what could have been if they had taken care of the football. The Broncos rank 31st in turnover margin at minus-14. In their four wins, they have won the battle. Play fundamental football, and they'd be lingering in the playoff margin with likely home victories over the New York Giants and Bengals, the latter loss so ugly it resulted in offensive coordinator Mike McCoy's firing.
The blueprint remains cemented Thursday at Indianapolis: run the football, secure an early lead and let the defense loose. Denver is attempting to avoid becoming the third team in franchise history and first since 1964 to go winless on the road.
"Thanks for reminding me. You killed the vibe," said outside linebacker Von Miller, who has recorded at least 10 sacks in six seasons. "Hopefully we can just keep emotions of Sunday flowing and really get the tide going. We are playing in front of the world in all orange. It should be good."
It will be on Joseph to create a fire under this team equivalent to the shrimp cocktail sauce at St. Elmo's. The group is proud, and will feature young players attempting to prove they are part of the core going forward. Safety Will Parks is among them. He will receive extra reps with promising young safety Justin Simmons placed on season-ending injured reserve Wednesday with a left high ankle sprain. While the Broncos are shorthanded, there is a good omen. A statue of Peyton Manning will greet the Broncos as they arrive at Lucas Oil Stadium. On Wednesday night, a Colts stadium worker fixed a ground light to increase the illumination of "The Sheriff," so that "it would look perfect."
"I don't think I will be spending much time with the statue," Trevor Siemian joked to me when I asked if he would take a selfie with Manning's likeness.
Manning won 85 road games, second most in NFL history to Tom Brady. And yet even he could not win in Indianapolis while with the Broncos. What are the keys?
"It's about playing clean football. Don’t turn the ball over. Take the crowd out of it. And our playmakers need to make plays," said running back C.J. Anderson, who needs 300 yards to reach 1,000 on the ground. "That’s how you win games on the road. That’s our challenge this week.”