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 24-10 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. Gone with The Wind became Gone with the Win.
"We have big-picture awareness with a small focus," said Joseph, declining to discuss playoff aspirations for his 6-6 team that sits one game back of Baltimore for the final wildcard spot. "We have to keep the same small focus."
It felt like the 1990s again with No. 30 running through the darkness into the light. The Broncos ran for 218 yards. Lindsay finished with a career-high 157 yards on the ground. If you don't know who is, then shame on you. He makes defenders disappear. He is a legitimate candidate for offensive rookie of the year honors. Lindsay boasts 937 rushing yards, leaving him 167 shy of Dominic Rhodes' undrafted rookie record set in 2001 with the Colts.
"The game plan was to go out there and run the ball. The wind changed that a little bit (to run more), but that was the plan," said Lindsay, who received a game ball. "It was the offensive line and my game ball. I love them, and they love me. It's not about me. It's about the team. The Oline is doing a great job. I can't stress that enough. They get mad if I don't get five yards."
Lindsay's production demands 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. Safety Justin Simmons caught an airball by Bengals quarterback 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.
"I didn't see the beer. I guess I am lucky it didn't hit me," joked Simmons. "We wanted to make sure we emphasize football being fun. We are going out here to get turnovers. When your offense sees you celebrating, that's a good feeling. That's the big reason we started this team dynamic of having fun."
Four plays later, quarterback Case Keenum handed the ball to Lindsay. Forget the bread crumbs. Just follow the vapor trail into the end zone. With left tackle 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. He became the first player in 11 seasons (Fred Taylor, 2007) to post three consecutive games averaging at least seven yards per carry with a minimum of 10 attempts.
"I see you," tweeted Terrell Davis, the Broncos' Hall of Fame No. 30. The praise followed Lindsay into the locker room where he's become a favorite of teammates.
"Phillip is my guy. We talk all the time. We stay late in the facility and work," said Bolles, whose improved play has coincided with the winning streak. "I played at Utah when he was at Colorado so I knew what he had. I knew he was going to be a big-time back. He's the hometown kid, and he plays with so much passion. He has that dog in him. We call him 'Pit Bull' for a reason."
Lindsay's latest burst -- the type that can help his awards campaign -- shoved the Broncos ahead 21-3. He built on Sutton's breakthrough moment. After sluggish performances following the Demaryius Thomas trade, a deal made to create playing time for the rookie, 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.
"He showed that," said Keenum, who completed 12 of 21 passes for 151 yards. "I love throwing to him."
Keenum was nothing more than a decoy for Lindsay. 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 whipped around and hit Harris below his right knee.
Harris eventually rose to his feet, but could not walk to the sideline. He placed no weight on his lower right leg. Harris underwent X-rays at the stadium. Moments later, the All-Pro cornerback was ruled out.
Harris told Denver7 that the X-Ray revealed a small hairline fracture. He hasn't given up on returning this season.
"Hell no," he said. "I will help them prepare and keep working. It's not a lot of pain. I feel good. We can win the rest of these games."
Starters Derek Wolfe (rib cartilage) and linebacker Josey Jewell (ankle) were hurt in the first half and did not return.
"I’m just glad nothing is broken and I’ll be able to bounce back and hopefully next week," said Wolfe, who was having trouble breathing. "It doesn’t hurt to touch, but moving, it feels like somebody is stabbing me with a knife."
The Broncos vowed not to experience a letdown. They arrived to sunshine. It proved misleading on a day when the weather played a factor.
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 he darted into the end zone from 6-yards out.
Lindsay credited Broncos strength coach Loren Landow, dating to his days as his personal trainer, for helping him increase his speed last spring. He believes he is healthier now than when he was in college.
"When you are trying to win games and reach the playoffs," Lindsay said, "you don't have time for a rookie wall."
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 and a running back who is hard-pressed to play any better.
"He's just out of this world. Great teammate," said Von Miller, who finished with 1.5 sacks, leaving him with 12.5 for the season. "I have seen it time and time again in practice. You can see the aura around him when he's walking through the locker room. He's doing great things."