By Mark Schiff
Welcome to the comeback club, kid quarterback.
After scoring just seven points through the game’s first three quarters, Brock Osweiler and the Broncos offense came alive in the fourth to knock off the undefeated New England Patriots 30-24 in overtime in Denver’s biggest and best win of the season. On a cold and snowy night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Broncos improved to 9-2 and made a statement that they’re among the AFC elite, with or without Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning.
Here are your Week 12 team grades from one of the most thrilling team wins in recent memory.
Denver’s offense had seven 3-and-outs and there were moments when Osweiler looked overwhelmed against the Patriots formidable defense. And yet, like this year’s Peyton Manning-led version of the offense, the team moved the ball when it mattered. Trailing 21-7 in the fourth quarter, Denver scored 17 unanswered points and would have won the game in regulation were it not for New England’s game-tying field goal as time expired. And after the defense shut down New England on the first series of overtime, it took just three plays for C.J. Anderson, the offensive MVP of the game, to rip off a 48-yard touchdown run to win it.
In the end, Denver accumulated an impressive 433 net yards and 23 first downs against the Patriots. Brock Osweiler’s numbers weren’t particularly impressive — 23/42 for 270 yards, one touchdown and one pick — but it was his poise and calm that made the difference in the end. He found Emmanuel Sanders on a gorgeous 39-yard pass to set up the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter and — perhaps most importantly given the scrutiny of Peyton’s cold-weather glove — didn’t let the elements affect his play.
Like the offense, Denver’s defense played best when it counted. After New England’s unstoppable tight end Rob Gronkowski scored with alarming ease on the Patriots first possession, Denver’s defense seemed to settle into something of a rhythm and by the end of the game, they were in a groove. The defense forced a 3-and-out on three of New England’s final five possessions, including overtime, when Von Miller sacked Tom Brady on the Pats first possession to set up Denver with great field position.
Unfortunately, two stars players were injured. Safety T.J. Ward and nose tackle Sylvester Williams both hurt their ankles on the same play and did not return. But it takes a total team effort when facing Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, and the defense played together well, holding the Patriots to 301 net yards and limiting the New England to 2-13 on third down.
Special Teams: B-
After Denver’s offense punted following a 3-and-out on their opening possession of the fourth quarter, Denver’s special teams came up with arguably the biggest play of the game, when Cody Latimer forced a fumble on a punt return that set up Denver with a short field.
Still, this was not one of Denver’s better special teams performances. Brandon McManus badly missed a third quarter field goal attempt that would have trimmed New England’s lead to four and punter Britton Colquitt had a few shanks and wound up with just a 43.4 yard average.
Denver’s coaching staff deserves credit for coming up with a winning gameplan against one of the NFL’s best teams but there were also a number of curious calls that could have cost them. On Denver’s third series, the offense moved the ball into field goal range but Osweiler took a 13-yard sack on an empty backfield formation on 3rd and 2. And in the fourth quarter trailing by 7, Denver elected to kick a field goal rather than go for it on 4th and goal from the 3. Ultimately, these plays didn’t matter but the game may not have needed overtime with a few minor adjustments.
Still, this is nitpicking. Denver took down the undefeated defending Super Bowl champs with an inexperienced young quarterback. That says more than enough about this team’s potential to claim the Lombardi Trophy for themselves this year.
Denver’s next test comes Sunday in San Diego for their first meeting against the Chargers.
The game kicks off at 2:05pm right here on CBS4.
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.