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Broncos in First After Fifth Straight Win

Posted Dec 4, 2011

The Broncos backed up a strong defensive first half with an outpouring of offense in the second half to defeat Minnesota 35-32. The victory, combined with Oakland's loss, puts the Broncos in first place in the AFC West.

MINNEAPOLIS -- For the Broncos on Sunday, it was a tale of two halves.

In the first half, the defense was dominant at times. In the second, the offense came alive in a shootout. And in the end, the Broncos came away with a 35-32 win -- their fifth straight -- against the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field.

“It doesn’t matter how we did it," Andre' Goodman said. "Just a good team effort today. The defense kind of held us down in the first half and the offense kept us in it in the second half. Just a good team win.”

In the first half, the Broncos offense couldn't get anything going. The unit's first play of the game resulted in a safety. From there, the next six drives finished as follows -- punt, fumble, punt, punt, punt, fumble.

That left the defense on the field for more than 21 minutes of the 30-minute half. Fortunately, that side of the ball was playing lights-out early.

Midway through the first quarter, Brian Dawkins punched the ball out of Christian Ponder's hands on a run, and Jason Hunter recovered the fumble, returning it to midfield.

The offense went three-and-out.

So on Minnesota's next possession, the Denver defense took things into its own hands. On second-and-8, Mario Haggan intercepted a Ponder pass and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown.

While the unit allowed 13 points in the first half -- Minnesota's other two came via a safety -- it put up six of its own to keep the Broncos in the game.

“I think we had 19 plays in the first half, we had two turnovers, three or four penalties," Eric Decker said. "You can’t do that stuff -- it just kills you. That’s something we have to really stress and practice and get better at it and get a quicker start so we can take some pressure off the defense, because they’ve been playing awesome.”

As the team went to the locker room for halftime, down 15-7, Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy spoke to the offense about getting it together and staying aggressive. It seemed to light a spark in the unit.

"You have to look in the mirror and see how bad you want it," said Tim Tebow, who finished 10-of-15 for 202 yards and two touchdowns -- good for a passer rating of 149.3. "I’m just proud of our guys because the way we came out there in the second half, you could see a different team stepped onto that field."

On their first drive of the second half, the Broncos drove 78 yards down the field, capping off the drive with a 21-yard touchdown pass from Tebow to Demaryius Thomas.

With the score in Minnesota's favor, 15-14, the game turned to offensive fireworks.

Minnesota was next to strike, as Ponder hit Percy Harvin for a 52-yard catch-and-run touchdown.

But after a 63-yard kickoff return by Quan Cosby, it took the Broncos exactly one play to answer. And it was a memorable one.

Under pressure, Tebow rolled to his left. After stiff-arming a defender, he looked to be running out of bounds, but at the last moment fired a pass to Thomas, who found himself wide open.

The receiver turned and sprinted upfield, juking past one defender and dragging another into the end zone for his second touchdown of the day, a 41-yarder, to bring the score to 22-21, Vikings.

"It felt good," said Thomas, who finished the game with a career-high 144 yards and two touchdowns. "A couple balls came my way and I made plays on them. It felt like the old me from college. It felt real good and hopefully it will just go up from there."

But the Vikings weren't finished. Midway through the fourth quarter, Ponder found Harvin again, this time for a 48-yard touchdown.

And once again, the Broncos had an immediate answer. From his own 24-yard line, Tebow found Thomas for a 42-yard strike. The second and final play of the drive was a 24-yard touchdown run by Willis McGahee, who eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the sixth time this season.

That brought the score to 29-27, Vikings, and with 8:52 remaining in the game, the Broncos elected to go for two. Tebow ran in the conversion from 2 yards out, and just like that the game was tied.

“(The offense) had a slow start in the first half, but they picked it up in the second half," Champ Bailey said. "It was vice-versa because we played great in the first half and then we started giving up plays. It goes both ways. We carry each other and that’s the way it’s going to have to be.”

After a 13-play drive by the Vikings that resulted in a 39-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell to take the lead, the Broncos had the ball at their own 20 with 3:06 remaining.

"Our mentality is that if it’s close in the fourth, we’re going to find a way to win, no matter how it gets done," Decker said.

Tebow and the offense proceeded to drive 52 yards down the field -- spurred on by a 40-yard catch by Thomas -- for a game-tying, 46-yard field goal by Matt Prater.

So with 1:33 remaining, the defense knew it had to hold strong to force overtime.

"Guys are real confident in their ability to make plays," Hunter said. "When it’s crunch time, playmakers have to come out. "

The defense did one better. On the first play of the Vikings' drive, Goodman jumped in front of a Ponder pass and returned it 20 yards to the 15-yard line.

"That was the biggest play of the game," Haggan said. "It pretty much sealed it for us."

From there, the Broncos ran five times and let Prater close out the win with a 23-yard field goal as time expired.

Prater now has three game-winning field goals in overtime or as time expires on the road this season, the most since Carolina's John Kasay accomplished the feat in 2003 -- the Panthers' Super Bowl season under Head Coach John Fox.

"When adversity hits and you’re not doing good, most teams pull apart, they’re not on the same page," Tebow said. "But our team grows closer together and we come together. There’s that encouragement, and that’s something special. It’s something that’s very exciting and I’m very proud to be a part of that."

For the fifth straight week, the Broncos entered the fourth quarter within three points of their opponent. And for the fifth straight week, the Broncos won.

Fox was asked if it feels like he's watching the same movie every week.

"The ending is what I like the most," he smiled. "Thank the Lord for some great, big-hearted guys. They keep fighting. It didn't start off real well for us. That first half was a little sluggish to say the least. They responded. They came back in a big way. They made the necessary plays to win a very tough, hard-fought game. We’ll take it."

The win, coupled with Oakland's 37-14 loss in Miami, put the Broncos at 7-5 and in first place in the AFC West -- a long way from the club's 1-4 start.

"Our mentality really is one game at a time," Decker said. "To know that Oakland lost and we won, and that we’re tied in first place -- we have a chance. That’s the best thing right now. We’re playing our best football and playing together as a team. Camaraderie is high and we’ll see where it takes us.”