By Rich Kurtzman
Denver wanted a win in Cincinnati; they went and got it.
It wasn’t a pretty contest and indeed there were mistakes in all three phases of the game, but there were also game-changing plays by each unit as well.
The offense was off-kilter in the third quarter and Manning tossed two interceptions in a row, but he bounced back to throw two touchdowns. The defense gave up 17 straight points in the third and fourth quarters but came up with an all important turnover. And on special teams, there were too many big returns allowed and a misplay that set the team up on their own one yard line. But Trindon Holliday made up for those missteps with his 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
In the end, the Broncos earned their third straight win and their fifth overall in a 31-23 point game; let’s take a look at how their performances were graded.
Offense overall: B-
Denver’s offense wasn’t nearly as explosive as usual, but they played well enough to win the game.
They put 10 points up in the first half and led 10-3 going into the break and when they got the ball in the second half, the men in orange and blue led 17-10. That drive was interesting, as Manning threw the team down the field, but once they were within striking distance of the end zone, he threw an interception. When the Broncos got the ball back, he tossed a second pick, giving the Bengals extraordinary field position that they capitalized on with a touchdown to take the lead.
Manning battled back though, going 4-4 for 50 yards on Denver’s next drive, in which they took the 24-20 lead when the veteran quarterback hit tight end Joel Dreessen who was open in the back of the end zone. The Broncos ran the rock relentlessly on the next drive, and Manning’s four-yard TD pass to Eric Decker pushed the team’s lead to 11 and put the game away. Denver could only manage 68 yards on the ground, with much of that production coming late in the contest, and even though Manning wasn’t magnificent, they all did just enough to earn the victory.
Defense overall: A-
The defense stepped up early and often Sunday afternoon.
Von Miller sacked Dalton to set up a third and 22 which the Broncos stopped and forced the Bengals to punt in the second quarter. In fact, Denver’s D held Cincinnati to 3-9 on third downs in the first half and only three points. Miller enjoyed three sacks on the day, giving him nine on the year, which is second best in the NFL, while Elvis Dumervil and Danny Trevathan each enjoyed a sack as well.
While Champ Bailey was burned a couple of times by A.J. Green, he made up for it with a fourth quarter interception that set up the Broncos’ final score, and really, he played about as well as anyone could hope against the incredibly athletic receiver. In all, the Denver D held Cincinnati to 5-16 (35 percent) on third downs, and 2-4 on their red zone scoring opportunities—it was a third great game for that unit in a row.
Special Teams overall: B
The Broncos’ special teams got off to a typically poor start, allowing Tate to return the ball to the 40 on the opening kickoff. In the second quarter, they did it again, to the 44 that time, giving Cincinnati great field position. Matt Prater hit his first field goal in the first quarter to improve to 10-10 on the season and give Denver the 3-0 lead.
In the second half, Trindon Holliday lit it up with a Denver Broncos’ team record 105-yard kickoff return touchdown to give the team a 17-3 lead right out of the locker room. It was the most special play the squad has made all season long and a very rare touchdown on special teams for Denver.
They got back to their bumbling ways later in the third quarter though when Holliday watched the ball bounce and Lance Ball had to fall on it at the one yard line.
John Fox was on top of his game once again this Sunday, and the Broncos looked prepared to play when the first gun sounded. Just before the half, the Bengals lined up and spiked the ball before the half ended and Fox thought they lined up illegally, which would have resulted in the last three seconds being run off the clock. He pleaded his case but the referees to no avail and Cincinnati made the 49-yard field goal. Late in the game, Fox did challenge a play and won. The Bengals completed a pass just before the two minute warning and were awarded a first down but Fox had the play reviewed and it was determined that the receiver was short of the line to gain. The Bengals ended up getting the first down after all, but it took two more plays and 34 precious seconds off the clock after the astute coach challenged correctly.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.