CINCINNATI -- Defensive players circled around Broncos linebacker Von Miller at the mouth of the tunnel Sunday morning. Miller raised his voice and issued a simple challenge.
"They need this game. We need this game," Miller roared at Paul Brown Stadium. "Who wants it more?"
For the first 30 minutes, neither the Broncos nor the Cincinnati Bengals appeared interested in taking anything but a nap, a clunky display of football made more painful by the likely season-ending leg injury suffered by Chris Harris Jr.
With the their playoff dreams flickering, the Broncos turned a pair of turnovers into touchdowns for rookies Phillip Lindsay and Courtland Sutton as they barefisted their way to a victory.
Denver improved to .500 for the first time since it was 2-2 on Oct. 1, a combination of youth and confidence making the postseason a possibility.
It felt like the 1990s again with No. 30 running through the darkness into the light.
Lindsay, who finished with a career-high 157 yards on the ground, remains the Broncos' best offensive player and a legit candidate for offensive of the rookie of year honors. He needs more opportunities, something even coordinator Bill Musgrave conceded last week. With the Broncos leading 14-3 in the third, the sticky-fingered defense kept its promise to get Lindsay the ball. Justin Simmons caught an airball by Jeff Driskel -- Adam Gotsis refused to bite on a play fake and mauled the quarterback -- for an interception. The defenders raced to the end zone to celebrate, and a fan threw a beer at them in disgust. In fairness, it was a better toss than Driskel's.
Four players later, Case Keenum handed the ball to Lindsay. Forget the bread crumbs. Just follow the vapor trail into the end zone. With Garett Bolles providing downfield blocking, Lindsay raced untouched 65 yards for his second touchdown. Midway through the third quarter, he owned 127 rushing yards on 14 carries with a pair of scores.
"I see you," tweeted Terrell Davis, the Broncos' Hall of Fame No. 30.
Lindsay's latest burst -- the type that can help his awards campaign -- shoved the Broncos ahead 21-3. He built on Courtland Sutton's breakthrough moment. After sluggish performances following the Demaryius Thomas trade, a deal made to create playing time, Sutton provided a reminder of his talent. He raced off the line, perfectly executing a fade route on a 30-yard touchdown from Keenum to inflate Denver's advantage to 14-3. Sutton, who had a career day with four receptions for 85 yards, is a work in progress on slants, but remains a weapon on deep balls.
Keenum was nothing more than a decoy for Lindsay, with 151 passing yards deep into the fourth quarter. However, he has six touchdowns and one interception over the past five games.
Sutton's score came after a muffed punt. The Broncos equation for winning the past three weeks hardly requires Will Hunting on a chalkboard. They take the ball away. And take care of it. Denver turned the turnovers into 14 points.
As the Broncos made a statement, it provided balm to the loss of Harris. The uneasy scene unfolded with 4:27 remaining in the first quarter. Harris made a third down stop. As linebacker Todd Davis entered the play to help on the tackle his knee appeared to whip around and hit Harris below his right knee.
Harris eventually rose to his feet, but could not walk to the sideline. He needed help to reach the sidelines, and placed no weight on his lower right leg. Harris underwent X-rays at the stadium. Moments later, the All-Pro cornerback was ruled out. Starters Derek Wolfe (ribs) and linebacker Josey Jewell (ankle) were hurt in the first half and did not return.
The Broncos vowed not to experience a letdown. They arrived to sunshine. It proved misleading on a day when the weather played a factor. The Broncos spent the afternoon trying to turn "Gone With the Wind" into "Gone With the Win."
Lindsay provided a bump for the decaffeinated offense. He rushed for 57 yards on 11 first-half carries. The former CU star broke the scoreless tie with 1:56 remaining in the second quarter. The run captured his rookie season in a Cliff Notes package. He ran. He stopped. He shifted gears. And then darted into the end zone from 6-yards out.
The Broncos finished off Cincinnati's misery with Bradley Chubb's strip sack with 2:39 remaining in the fourth quarter. The win was more stick figures than Picasso. But it matters little. The Broncos took care of the ball and the Bengals.
They remain in the playoff hunt with rookies who don't know any better.