ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (The Sports Xchange) -As Shane Ray prepared to make his first NFL start at Cincinnati on Sunday, the question was unavoidable: Could he play well enough to allow the Denver Broncos to absorb DeMarcus Ware’s fractured forearm without harm?

Shane Ray (credit: CBS)

Shane Ray (credit: CBS)

He provided that answer on back-to-back plays in the third quarter.

With Cincinnati set up at the Denver 37-yard line after a fumble recovery, the Broncos rushed at Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, and Ray got to him for consecutive sacks. He tacked on another in the fourth quarter to cap his day.

“They tried to one-on-one block me with a tight end, and I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Ray said. “You don’t leave a one-on-one block with Von Miller. You don’t leave a one-on-one block with the best pass-rushers in the league. They left a tight end one-on-one with me, and I was able to beat him inside to get to the sack.”

As a first-round pick who only slipped in the 2015 draft because of a marijuana citation just before the draft, Ray’s talent has always been elite. But it took a year of learning and honing his diet, playbook study and weight-room work to make the step forward he took this year.

“I just went back to the drawing board, saw where I had to get better and just looked at my game plan against the guy I was going against, and I was able to go out there and make plays,” he said.

— The Bengals gashed the then-battered Broncos’ run defense for 207 rushing yards in the teams’ last meeting at Paul Brown Stadium, on Dec. 22, 2014. After Jeremy Hill galloped 50 yards through the Broncos on Cincinnati’s fourth play from scrimmage Sunday, it looked like more of the same was in store, as the Bengals scored on the following play, capping a game-opening drive that looked easy.

It was the last time the Bengals would slice through the Broncos with the same effectiveness.

“We struggled with a play,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said.

“Everybody just took a deep breath, and we (went) back to what we do,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “We didn’t fit the run right, and we went back with the coaches, and we fixed it.”

MEDICAL WATCH: OT Russell Okung left for 17 snaps Sunday because of a lower back issue. Okung departed late in the first quarter, but returned late in the second quarter. Michael Schofield took his place at left tackle. … ILB Brandon Marshall was treated on the field during the Broncos’ final defensive series, but was uninjured. Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said that Marshall was “tired,” citing his high workload, which was greater than that of any other linebacker on the roster Sunday. Marshall took a knee during the national anthem for the third consecutive week. He is the only Bronco to have taken a knee for the anthem this season. … S Justin Simmons sat out Sunday’s game to recover from a wrist fracture he suffered the previous week. Simmons played through the injury in Week 2 and practiced with a cast, but the Broncos opted to hold him out after re-signing Shiloh Keo earlier in the week. … TE Virgil Green did not travel for Sunday’s game because of a calf injury suffered last week against the Colts. Green is considered “day-to-day” and could return to practice this week.

NOTES: RT Ty Sambrailo started at right tackle in place of the injured Donald Stephenson, and struggled, allowing a sack. It was Sambrailo’s first game-time work since he tore his labrum while playing left tackle in Week 3 of the 2015 season. … S Will Parks had the first interception of his career in his third career regular-season game, grabbing an Andy Dalton pass tipped by T.J. Ward. Parks played sub-package downs in place of the injured Simmons. … TE Jeff Heuerman made his regular-season debut Sunday and caught a 29-yard pass in the fourth quarter down the seam for his first career reception. Heuerman missed the 2015 season because of a torn ACL and was sidelined for most of the preseason because of a hamstring injury.


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