By Mark Schiff
That’s the best word to describe the Broncos thrilling 20-17 overtime win against the Cincinnati Bengals on a frigid Monday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Redemption for an offense that tallied nearly 400 yards after putting up a goose egg in the second half of three straight games. Redemption for a kicker who blew his chance to walk out of the stadium as the hero. And redemption for a defense that won the game in overtime after giving up two long touchdown drives in an ugly first half.
Thanks to Denver’s second half comeback win over an estimable Bengals team, the Broncos earned themselves a playoff berth and the chance to play for a first-round bye next weekend. Quite a turnaround.
As Denver gets ready to head to the playoffs for the fifth-straight year, here are your Week 16 team grades.
Since we’re talking about validation, Demaryius Thomas also acquitted himself in a season that’s been big on numbers and bigger on drops. He had a team-high seven catches on the night, including a pair of huge first-down grabs in overtime. Three-and-outs and the offensive line remain issues, but Denver got meaningful production from the running game as C.J. Anderson ripped off a 39-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to put the Broncos up 17-14.
However, the bulk of the credit goes to quarterback Brock Osweiler, who threw for 299 yards and no picks. He still makes mistakes born of inexperience, but he also makes plays. Perhaps as importantly, he’s also proven he can handle the toughest of scenarios; Osweiler has now led fourth-quarter comebacks against the AFC’s two top other seeds.
Courtesy of some excellent play-calling that saw Bengals QB AJ McCarron hitting a series of quick passes and sideline routes, Denver’s defense couldn’t get off the field in the first half, giving up seven straight third down conversions to start the game. But the defense returned to form in the second half, surrendering just three points and DeMarcus Ware came up with the game-sealing fumble recovery in overtime on a botched snap. More than anything, the D just seemed to tire Cincinnati down and come up with more big plays as the game went on.
Special Teams: C
Denver’s punt coverage was exceptional, but in general, the special teams slide continued against Cincinnati. He may have scored the winning points on a 37-yard kick in overtime, but Brandon McManus completely shanked a 45-yard would-be game-winner as time expired in regulation. His once-flawless leg is looking more worrisome by the week. And punter Britton Colquitt had just a 43.4 yard punt average, which won’t move him up from his current spot at 28th in the NFL.
Opening the second half with a touchdown drive and a three-and-out on defense showed what a nice job the team did with adjustments. Coach Kubiak also demonstrated his sturdy game-management skills in overtime when he took a timeout to buy time for the referees to go under the hood and look at a play. It wasn’t overturned, but it once again highlighted Kubiak’s astute in-game awareness.
Even beyond clinching a spot in the postseason, Denver’s win proved that they can hang with anyone in the top ranks of the AFC. And with a little help and a home win next week over the woeful Chargers, the road to Super Bowl 50 could end up going through Denver.
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.