Come on, Colorado winter.
Bring on the dropping temperatures and drop down the snow. The Broncos are ready for tough outdoor conditions, where the manliest of football men run the ball, the defense gets mean and Peyton Manning can save his arm.
On a day when former coach Mike Shanahan had thoughts of converting a nice tribute into a stunning upset, the Broncos overcame a two-touchdown deficit and a rare error-filled game by Manning to defeat Washington 45-21 on a warm late-October afternoon at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
The Broncos' running backs and a resurgent defense — staples of cold-weather football — fueled the comeback.
"I finally feel like ... like you can feel it now," said Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.
In winning their first six games, the Broncos skillfully picked apart opponents through the gorgeous precision of the Manning-directed passing game.
There is rarely anything pretty about playoff football in the elements of January. Come to think of it, it doesn't figure to be warm and cozy Feb. 2 in New Jersey for Super Bowl XLVIII, either.
Can the Broncos transform from Peyton's pretty passing in the fall to a more rugged brand of play in winter? The comeback victory — the Broncos overcame a 21-7, early third-quarter deficit — delivered promise.
Running back Knowshon Moreno gained 133 total yards, including a go-ahead, 35-yard touchdown off a screen pass. Second-round draft pick Montee Ball moved from the doghouse of lost fumbles to a pile-driving touchdown that set the comeback in gear. Undrafted rookie C.J. Anderson showed enough leg strength in his NFL debut to warrant more carries in the power running game as the weather turns.
The Broncos, it seems, have found themselves a running-back rotation.
"I don't know who's at running back until after the run, and I'm trying to help them up off the ground," said Broncos left guard Zane Beadles. "But it was obviously effective. I don't think we had flashy numbers running the ball, but it was effective."
The three Broncos running backs rushed 29 times for 103 yards. Not great. But a case can be made that there were no better runs in the NFL on Sunday than Ball's leg-churning, 4-yard touchdown run.
"I'm very proud of myself for keep pushing, but it was collectively an entire unit of them blocking the big guys up front and me following right behind them," Ball said.
Stop worrying about the Broncos. They went through a lull in which they won ugly against Jacksonville, lost to Indianapolis and fell behind 21-7 to the struggling Redskins. But they reached the season's halfway point with a bye week and a 7-1 record.
For the season's second half, the Broncos know Manning, at his worst, is still better than most any other NFL quarterback. He threw a season-most three interceptions, and lost a fumble that led to a score, yet he also passed for four touchdowns and 354 yards.
"This is a football team that even if they make mistakes, they've got a good enough team to find a way to win," Mike Shanahan, the Redskins' coach, said about his former Broncos.
Perhaps more important, the Broncos believe they can give Manning a new best friend. His name is a running game.
John Fox and Shanahan, the Broncos' current and former coaches, have combined for 32 seasons as NFL head men. They weren't so experienced that they couldn't be reminded of an old lesson: When in doubt, go for it on fourth down.
Fox would not in the first half, and he essentially didn't get the ball back until the second. By the time his offense could settle down from the shock of Manning turnovers on back-to-back plays, the Broncos trailed 21-7 early in the third quarter.
It took a 14-point deficit for Fox's gut to stir up some risk taking. This time his Broncos were at the Redskins' 20, fourth-and-2. Rather than take a Matt Prater field goal — there were more than nine minutes left in the third quarter — Fox went for it. Moreno picked up the first down, and then his backup, Ball, finished off the possession with a tough-yardage touchdown.
It was 21-14. On the Broncos' next drive, they drove down until it was fourth-and-goal at the
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The comeback was on.
Denver's defense, playing its best game of the season, started applying relentless pressure on Robert Griffin III, the Redskins' talented but erratic quarterback.
A shanked Redskins punt gave the Broncos the ball at the Washington 35. Manning tossed a screen to Moreno, who churned, cut and juked 35 yards for a touchdown, making it 28-21. Ballgame. Broncos linebacker Von Miller made his first sack of the season count with a strip fumble, and Griffin threw costly fourth-quarter interceptions to Chris Harris and Rahim Moore. When Griffin was knocked out of the game by a vicious Malik Jackson tackle, Kirk Cousins was intercepted by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who returned the ball 75 yards for a touchdown.
Denver has a defense, again. The Broncos are running the ball, again. The temperature at game time was 69 degrees, but it already was well-known the Broncos could operate in warm weather.
This game showed signs the Broncos will be ready for the season's winter months.