DENVER -- In the corner of the Broncos locker room after practice last week, cornerback Aqib Talib heard the chatter. The Broncos defense is dirty. The defenders play beyond the whistle and the rules.
Listening to critics, some would prefer the Broncos be above the fray. The problem is their defense is the fray. It’s what pulls the loose thread of opponents and turns them into, um, painfully sore losers.
“We aren’t going to change who we are,” Talib told Denver7.
And why would they want to? Pitch inside and some batters are going to get hit. The reward for intimidation and aggression far outweighs the hit to the pocketbook for fines. The Broncos dominated the first half, but it took Talib’s fourth quarter pick six and Von Miller’s strip sack for the Colts’ Luck to finally run out in a 34-20 victory.
It came with a cost. Broncos outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware broke the ulna bone in his right forearm, and exited the locker room Sunday evening in a sling and soft cast. He will undergo a further exam on Monday to determine if he can play through the injury or whether surgery is required to stabilize the fracture. He's expected to miss the Cincinnati Bengals game this Sunday, if not more.
"DWare has battled some injuries. He'll be right back though," said Miller, who delivered three sacks and caused a fumble. "He'll be able to fight through it. That's just the type of pro he is."
Ware, a defensive captain, preaches relentlessness. He implores teammates to finish plays, to push the opponent to the edge. Talib lives for these moments, when the quarterback becomes vulnerable and starts hearing footsteps and seeing ghosts.
Talib electrified the sellout crowd. The Broncos held a 16-13 lead. Talib took over and took off. Quarterback Andrew Luck faced four-man pressure. Derek Wolfe, rebounding from an injured neck, pushed up the middle, causing Luck to step to his right. He held on a tick too long, allowing Talib to read his eyes.
"I know he likes to let those deep routes develop," Talib said.
Talib hauled in the pass, raced 46 yards for the score and showed why he’s been toying with the idea of returning punts "if I get in better shape," he joked. Talib’s fifth pick six as a Bronco is a team record. He owns nine in his career, which ranks fourth in NFL history behind Rod Woodson (12), Darren Sharper (11) and Charles Woodson (11).
"If he gets his hands on the ball, he scores," said outside linebacker Shane Ray. "It's simple."
Reading off the names ahead of him, Talib smiled. All have played significantly longer. The all-time mark could be in reach.
"Nine in (eight-plus) years? I'll take that," Talib told Denver7. "There's no (darn) secret. Like every coach says, 'Get to the sideline and go.' That's what it's about."
Even with Talib’s touchdown, the Broncos needed one last flurry of fists. Abandoning the script that led to a three-and-out on their final drive in Week One – which gave Carolina a chance to win – the Broncos came out throwing with 4:02 remaining. Tight end John Phillips drew a 26-yard pass interference followed by an 18-yard gain by Virgil Green, who limped off after the reception with a calf injury that will require an MRI on Monday. Demaryius Thomas, bothered by a left hip injury, all but ziplocked the victory with an outstretched 11-yard gain for a first down near the two-minute warning. Thomas made a team-high five catches for 90 yards as he tries to get on track this season. McManus capped the drive with a 35-yard field goal.
It was comforting. What Miller did next was a frightening flashback to Super Bowl 50. He raced around right tackle Joe Reitz for a crushing sack. Ray scooped up the ball and jogged 15 yards for a touchdown. The Broncos defense scored six times last year, and is on pace – fun with numbers – for 32 touchdowns this season.
"I did see Shane and I was like, 'Man, Shane, they took away your touchdown?^' I kind of messed with him a bit," said Miller, the odds-on favorite for AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. "It was time to close. It's a lot of fun when we are out there making plays."
It proved necessary. Why?
It’s easier to exterminate Chuck Norris than Luck. At least for the Broncos. He entered the game with seven touchdowns and two picks on 850 passing yards against them. A forgettable first half made it hard to reconcile those numbers (Luck was 5 of 15 for 53 yards). But he wouldn’t go away, giving the Colts a flickering chance. Down 23-13, Luck engineered a 12-play, 80-yard drive. Frank Gore scored on a short pass, shrinking the Broncos’ cushion to 23-20 late in the fourth.
Denver answered with the aforementioned drive. It gorged the clock. And it left the Colts in the inevitable position of having to pass every down against the Broncos' defense.
"I'll be honest. I really didn't like my decision. I know that's crazy because we won the game. I made a decision for a reason," coach Gary Kubiak said of not attempting to convert and run out the clock before McManus' 35-yarder. "We struggled in short-yardage situations. I told the defense, 'we put you in a tough position, but that's what you are made of.'^"
For the second straight week, the Broncos came out throwing with Siemian, who finished 23 of 33 for 266 yards. Their first drive stalled on third down when Siemian tucked it under and didn’t see Thomas waving his hand uncovered 10 yards down field. McManus missed a 54-yard field goal wide left. There's no shame missing a kick of that distance, but McManus nailed five of seven of at least 50 yards last season and is working with a new long snapper and holder.
The Colts took advantage with a plodding drive that ended with a 44-yard field goal from ageless Adam Vinatieri, who is making strong case to become the second kicker in the Hall of Fame.
The Broncos responded. Siemian performed his best when throwing left – until the end of the drive. He fed Thomas on a screen. Thomas, whose status was uncertain early in the week, raced 44 yards before taking a direct hit to his injured left hip. He remained in the game, but the Broncos settled for a tying 23-yard field goal after Siemian rushed a pass to a wide open Sanders in back of the end zone and threw ball away against a safety blitz.
Denver’s offense let down its hair and stayed in the air. Siemian threw 25 times in the first half as the Broncos dominated every statistic. They moved ahead 10-3 after C.J. Anderson’s third touchdown of the season. He didn’t score until the seventh game a year ago, but reporting to camp in shape has allowed him to function as a bowling ball with legs again early this season.
"We just have to get better in the red zone," Green said.
Dominance matters little when not reflected in the scoreboard. The Broncos let the Colts hang around, outgaining them 294 yards to 72 in the first half, but owning only a 13-6 lead. The Broncos paid for letting Luck linger. In the third quarter, he guided a 13-play, 79-yard drive. Luck fed it with a first-down scramble on third-and-20, knotting the score at 13.
Denver pulled away when it pulled no punches. After a week of being labeled dirty, the defense stood in the middle of the field shaking hands after another victory.
"You can see that our team has a lot of heart," cornerback Chris Harris said. "If the game's on the line, you can almost guarantee that we are going to finish it. We like that. It's what we do."
Broncos right tackle Donald Stephenson, who has quietly been a solid addition, left in the first quarter with a left calf injury. Darrion Weems replaced him in for one series, but then moved to guard with Michael Schofield shifting to right tackle. Schofield has appeared to find a home at right guard but realignment proved necessary.
The Broncos promised all week their $42,540 in fines would not change their play. The Broncos were fined $131,000-plus last season for on-field infractions. Their style defines them. And it isn’t going anywhere. Safety T.J. Ward slammed into Colts receiver Donte Moncrief on an incompletion. The league is likely to investigate the hit for a fine on defenseless receiver. Ward was docked $27,363 last season for fighting and an illegal hit.
C.J. Anderson (offense), Todd Davis (defense) and Cody Latimer (special teams) served as game day captains based on their performance in the season-opening win. ... Rookie running back Devontae Booker bounced back after last week's fumble. He produced three first downs on the ground. ... Sunday marked the 10th time the Broncos defense has recorded multiple touchdowns and the first since Tony Carter and Chris Harris pulled it off on Oct. 15, 2012 at San Diego. ... Siemian is only the fourth quarterback drafted by the Broncos to win his first two starts, joining Marlin Briscoe (1968), Craig Penrose (1976) and Brock Osweiler (2015). ... Miller ranks sixth on the Broncos all-time sack list with 64. He has four this season in two games.