Broncos know luck hid many problems
AP Sports Writer
ENGLEWOOD, Colorado- With the euphoria of the “Immaculate Deflection” subsiding, the Denver Broncos returned to work Monday determined to fix plenty of problems that were exposed in their wild victory at Cincinnati.
“We certainly didn’t do everything we wanted to do the way we wanted to do it,” coach Josh McDaniels said. “But we did do enough things well enough for us to be in it late in the game and give ourselves an opportunity to make a play.”
Before Brandon Stokley’s 87-yard touchdown catch on a deflected pass with 11 seconds left gave the Broncos a farfetched 12-7 win over the bewildered Bengals, Denver’s offense failed at every turn.
Kyle Orton had thrown for just 156 yards, Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall and top draft pick Knowshon Moreno were a step slow and the bumbling offense failed to take any heat off Denver’s defense.
Marshall looked mechanical and was unable to gain his usual separation. He dropped the first pass thrown his way and let a deep pass slip through his hands before finishing with four catches for a paltry average of 6.8 yards. He missed almost all offseason while recuperating from hip surgery, protesting his pay and serving a suspension.
Moreno, who injured a knee in the preseason, gained just 19 yards on eight carries, and it appeared as though Orton thought he was still in Chicago at times when he got happy feet way too quickly behind Denver’s stout offensive line.
Five times the Broncos went three-and-out.
Most egregious was the Broncos’ play on a drive that could have clinched it midway through the fourth quarter when they led 6-0 and were on the Bengals 24.
Guard Ben Hamilton false started, center Casey Wiegmann held and Orton took a sack on sequential plays to move them out of kicker Matt Prater’s field goal range.
“That whole series was bad football,” McDaniels said.
And it finally caught up to them. Denver’s refurbished defense finally bent, allowing the Bengals to drive 91 yards for the go-ahead score on Cedric Benson’s 1-yard TD run with 38 seconds left.
Carson Palmer was suddenly comfortable in the pocket without the Broncos blitzing, and McDaniels said the fatigue factor probably caught up with them on that drive.
“We weren’t on the field enough offensively to prevent that,” he said. “We’ve got to have to ball for more than 26 minutes offensively if we want our defense to hold up as the game goes on. We’ve got to play better complementary football on both sides.”
Special teams didn’t help, either. Usually reliable returner Eddie Royal took the ensuing kickoff out of the end zone, ticking precious seconds off the clock and slipping at the 13.
All the foibles faded, however, when Stokley cradled cornerback Leon Hall’s deflection at midfield and raced untouched into the end zone with the longest winning play from scrimmage in the final minute of a game in NFL history.
The Broncos aren’t ready to relegate the play to franchise lore just yet. McDaniels said it holds too many lessons.
He lauded his players for not risking a flag by rushing the field in celebration, and he praised Stokley for having the presence of mind to tick extra seconds off the clock by running parallel to the end zone after out-racing linebacker Dhani Jones down the Broncos sideline.
But he also said Stokley needn’t have considered going out of bounds, as he acknowledged he had.
“We had one (timeout) left,” McDaniels said. “So, just some little things like that offensively that you can certainly learn from in that situation.
“And defensively, in any case like that, in an end-of-the-game situation, we want to have somebody deeper than their deepest guy. And we were fortunate that they had three guys converge on our receiver and there was really nobody behind Brandon when he caught the ball.”
McDaniels said the play drives home the point for defenders to always bat balls to the ground on deep desperation passes.
“Because if you tip it,” he said, “you never know what can happen.”