By Chad Jensen
CARSON, Calif. (247 SPORTS) – The Denver Broncos have seemingly had a miasmic cloud following them around, hanging over their head. This team has been harboring some bad ju-ju but the spell was finally broken.
The Broncos went into L.A. as seven-point underdogs and beat the Chargers 23-22. It was Denver’s first AFC West road victory since Week 13 of 2015, and obviously Vance Joseph’s first as head coach.
This team played complimentary football and it paid off. The Broncos move to 4-6 on the season, while the Chargers drop to 7-3.
Wins like this can be a springboard for team and can define a season. Heading into Week 11 the Broncos hadn’t been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but with just a five-percent postseason chance, the margin for error was non-existent.
That margin doesn’t change despite the hard-fought upset win, but could this victory serve as the pivot point to a resurgent Broncos season? Only time will tell.
Denver’s Week 11 victory was chalk full of lessons. What were the takeaways?
Broncos embattled O-line steps up
The Broncos have lost three starters on the offensive line this season. With three new players among the starting five, Week 11 didn’t bode well, especially considering that Joey Bosa was returning to action.
But the Broncos big uglies more than held their own, keeping Case Keenum’s jersey clean and paving the way for 108 rushing yards. Keenum wasn’t sacked once.
Hats off to Connor McGovern especially — the first player not-named Matt Paradis to start at center for Denver since 2014. Billy Turner and Elijah Wilkinson played inspired ball at the guard positions, too.
And Garett Bolles didn’t have any crucial penalties in crunch time, while keeping the likes of Bosa and Melvin Ingram off Keenum’s back. The Broncos needed a phenomenal collective performance from their O-line on the road this week, and they got it.
Keenum carries Denver to victory
There was 1:51 left on the clock and the ball was on the Broncos 8-yard line. Denver trailed by two points and had zero timeouts.
Every quarterback relishes — nay, dreams of — opportunities like this. Case Keenum did not disappoint.
Keenum marched the Broncos 76 yards on seven plays to put Brandon McManus in position to atone for his Week 9 sin and connect this time from 34 yards out as the clock expired.
Keenum finished the day 19-of-32 for 205 yards. No touchdowns. No interceptions.
It was just the second time all year Keenum didn’t turn the ball over and the first game in which the Broncos had zero fumbles or interceptions lost. Against the very best teams, like the Chargers, the margin for error is nil, and Keenum walked the razor’s edge.
Keenum deserved this win. Although Philip Rivers out-dueled him from a numbers perspective, quarterbacks are judged by wins and losses and in that sense, Keenum was the superior player on Sunday. It was Keenum’s signature win as a Bronco.
Lindsay a legit ORoY candidate
Phillip Lindsay, where have you been all our lives? Denver’s undrafted rookie phenom was lights out yet again in Week 11.
He produced 79 rushing yards on just 11 carries (7.1 avg) and two touchdowns, including his 41-yard strike in the second quarter. Lindsay also chipped in four receptions for 27 yards, putting him over 100 yards from scrimmage yet again.
Lindsay has a real shot at winning Offensive Rookie of the Year, though it’ll gall the NFL to award it to an undrafted player over the likes of Saquon Barkley — who went No. 2 overall in the draft.
Royce Freeman also contributed in his return to action off the ankle injury that cost him two games. Freeman carried the ball seven times for 23 yards and also tallied a touchdown.
All in, this rookie rushing duo have combined for 1,217 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns through nine 10 games. The Broncos are poised to have a dynamic backfield for at least the next four years.
Joseph coaching fast and loose for his job
The Broncos just won their fourth game of the season, so far be it from me to rain on Vance Joseph‘s parade. But he almost cost his team this win.
There were two crucial points in this game wherein Joseph arguably erred as a decision-maker. One was in the second quarter, when the Broncos had the chance to extend their lead to four points on fourth down from the Chargers’ 16-yard line. Instead of trotting the kicker out for the gimme field goal, Joseph chose to go for it and Phillip LIndsay was stopped short.
Philip Rivers wasted no time capitalizing on the momentum swing, and drove the Chargers down 84 yards on nine plays to pay-dirt. It was a 10-point swing with L.A. re-taking the lead 13-7.
I liked where Joseph’s head was at in this game. He was coaching aggressively, but this was a situation in which the Broncos should have taken the points.
PHOTO GALLERY: Broncos 23, Chargers 20
The second head-scratcher from Joseph came in the fourth quarter after the Broncos had taken the lead back 20-19. Joseph chose to go for the two-point conversion, which would have given Denver a three-point lead in the final period.
Going for it was the right decision, because a two-point lead wouldn’t have served Denver any better than the one-point lead they had in the moment. With nothing to lose, the call was a quarterback draw, and Case Keenum magnificently stretched forth the ball to break the plane before his knees touched the ground — but the officials ruled him down. No good.
The onus was on Joseph to challenge the play (it was close) but he ultimately chose to hold onto the red flag. Philip Rivers would drive down and put another field goal on the board, putting Denver behind 22-20.
The decision not to challenge the two-point conversion could have cost the Broncos the game, but fortunately, the defense was able to get the ball back and Keenum led the offense down for the game-winning field goal.
Ultimately, Joseph didn’t want to risk losing a timeout, and that at least proved to be very helpful to the Broncos later on L.A.’s final possession. Still, Joseph went for it on fourth down twice, converting one on a fake punt, and showed an aggressive style that arguably helped pave the way to a win. This just goes to show how razor-thing the margin for error truly is in the NFL.
Batman & Robin making history
Von Miller and Bradley Chubb have been on a tear and that didn’t change coming out of the bye. Miller and Chubb both were able to sack Rivers, giving the former 10 on the season and the latter nine.
Miller now has five-consecutive seasons of double-digit sacks, and seven such campaigns in his eight years in the NFL. The only season he didn’t reach 10 or more sacks was in 2013 — where he lost half the season to a six-game suspension and torn ACL. Miller also picked off Rivers, returning it 40-plus yards to put Denver in business.
Meanwhile, Chubb made a statement that he — not L.A.’s safety Derwin James — is the frontrunner for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Both the DRoY and ORoY award could end up in Denver this year, which would be an amazing feat and a coup for GM John Elway.