By Mark Schiff
With Peyton Manning injured, the Broncos entered Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears wondering if untested fourth-year backup Brock Osweiler could be the team’s short (or long) term answer at quarterback. By the time of the final whistle, there was no question: It’s Brock to the future.
Osweiler played sensationally in his first career start and Denver’s defense came up with a game-ending stop on a two-point conversion to seal a 17-15 victory over the Bears in Chicago. Although the execution was at times sloppy on both sides of the ball, the win snapped Denver’s two-game losing streak and pushed the Broncos to 8-2, putting them squarely in the driver’s seat for what would be their fifth straight AFC West title.
With Broncos fans wondering if they’ve discovered Peyton’s successor, here are your Week 11 team grades.
If Osweiler had any jitters before his first start, they certainly didn’t show. Brock’s second pass went for a 48-yard touchdown to Demaryius Thomas; by the end of the first quarter, he had racked up a perfect 153.6 passer rating. It was all part of a very poised effort from the backup, who was celebrating his 25th birthday. Focusing primarily on his tight ends — who finished with a combined 11 catches for 146 yards — Osweiler ended up 20-of-27 for 250 yards and two touchdowns.
An improved running game aided him greatly. Both Ronnie Hillman, who finished with a game-high 102 yards, and C.J. Anderson were able to break off several long runs of 10 yards or more, something that has been frustratingly absent in many of the previous games. The offensive line is still a concern, as Osweiler was sacked five times. But with nearly 400 yards of offense and a good balance between run and pass (the Broncos actually finished with more rush attempts than throws for the first time this year) this was one of Denver’s best offensive performances of the season.
You would think they would have learned by now, but Denver’s defense continues to shoot itself in the foot with penalties. The Broncos were flagged eight times for 118 yards, an unconscionable total that allowed Chicago to extend drives and remain in the game.
And yet you can’t argue with the final results. Although Chicago did a fairly good job passing the ball between the 20’s, Denver consistently forced the Bears to settle for field goals, got two second-half turnovers, and came up with two goal-line stops in the fourth quarter that put the game away. Denver’s defense continues to look like one of the league’s best and deepest units, and this was their best performance since the Green Bay game, but it’s frustrating to think just how much better they would be if they could just get a handle on their penalties.
Special Teams: C
Brandon McManus kicked another 24-yard field goal in what’s been his breakout season but overall this was one of Denver’s weaker special teams efforts. Omar Bolden almost had a very costly mistake when he let the ball bounce out of the front of the end zone in the second quarter and punter Britton Colquitt had a rough game with a 39.6 yard average on seven punts, including a 25-yard shank late in the fourth quarter. Denver’s special teams have been a strength all season but on Sunday, the offense and defense were both put in trying situations due to their mistakes.
Coach Gary Kubiak said all week long that Osweiler would have full access to the playbook and it was clear that his skill set suits the offense that Kubiak has struggled to install under Peyton Manning. Osweiler moved fluidly on bootlegs and passed accurately on the move as the coaches did a great job designing plays that allowed his receivers to get open in space and make plays.
Kubiak made a questionable call in the third quarter when he passed up a short field goal on fourth and goal and Denver came away without points. But given the circumstances of the game, it was probably the correct call and in general, Kubiak has been excellent this season at game management.
As with many of their games this season, the win was a bit too close for comfort but with a two game losing streak and the Patriots coming to town next Sunday night, the Bears game was one that Denver had to have. And based on the way Osweiler played, the Broncos may have found more than just a win.
Mark Schiff is a freelance writer and music journalist for AXS.com. In 2013, his coverage of the Seattle Seahawks ended in heartbreak when they defeated the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Now covering his beloved hometown team, his knowledge and passion for pro football has resulted in multiple fantasy football championships. Find him on Twitter at @mihilites.