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Notebook: Running Strong

Posted Dec 18, 2011

The Broncos backed up their claim as the No. 1 rushing team in the league; Mistakes in all three phases hurt the team; Dumervil continues his sack streak.

DENVER -- The No. 1 rushing team in the league lived up to its reputation Sunday against the New England Patriots.

Denver wasted little time establishing that ground game, posting 167 rushing yards in the first quarter, the most rushing yards by the team in the first quarter since at least 1992.

And everybody was getting in on the action.

Running backs Jeremiah Johnson, Lance Ball, Willis McGahee and quarterback Tim Tebow all had runs of at least 19 yards in the opening frame.

“We did have things going pretty well early,” Tebow said. “We scored on our first three possessions, and we felt like we were moving the ball pretty well.”

Overall, the Broncos posted 252 rushing yards for the game, their second highest rushing total of the year (299 at Oakland).

Tebow led the way for Denver in both carries and yards. He had 12 carries for 93 yards and two touchdowns – the first time in his career he’s had multiple rushing touchdowns in a game.

McGahee followed suit, rushing seven times for 70 yards, putting him just 10 yards shy of his fourth career 1,000-yard season. However, most of his production came in the first quarter, when he had five carries to 59 yards, before he injured his leg. He left the game after a 29-yard run in the first quarter and didn’t return until the second half.

With McGahee out, Lance Ball took up most of the load. Ball had 11 carries for 64 yards, and scored his first career rushing touchdown on a 32-yard run in the first quarter to give the Broncos the lead back, 13-7.

“It felt good,” Ball said. “I was just trying to make it to the end zone and make good things happen.”

COSTLY MISTAKES IN ALL THREE PHASES

A big reason the Broncos were able to reel off six straight wins before Sunday’s loss was the victory in the turnover battle. Over the course of those games, the Broncos were constantly able to get takeaways on defense while not turning the ball over on offense.

That changed Sunday, as the Broncos finished the game at -3 in the turnover category.

“You’re not going to be minus three against the New England Patriots and win very many ballgames,” Head Coach John Fox said. “Our guys fought and we tried to get back into it. But the reality is, we’re not at the stage where we can overcome minus three.”

All of the Broncos turnovers came on three fumbles in the second quarter, as a 16-7 lead turned into a 27-16 deficit.

It started on Denver’s first snap after the Patriots scored to narrow the Broncos lead to 16-14. Tebow handed off to Ball, who ran up the middle but fumbled as he was tackled. The Patriots recovered and six plays later, had a 17-16 lead.

But that score didn’t last long, as three plays into the Broncos next possession, Tebow was strip-sacked by Mark Anderson, who recovered the fumble as well. The Patriots again were able to put points on the board following the turnover, this time on a Brady quarterback sneak as New England pushed the margin to eight points.

“That’s one of our main keys, is holding onto the ball; no turnovers,” Tebow said. “If we hold onto the ball in this game, who knows what happens. So we’ve just got to improve with it and get a little bit better, and I know we’re going to do that.”

But just as the Broncos have stressed every win is a result of total team play, the same can be said for this loss. The defense committed three penalties that resulted in first downs for the Patriots, including two on failed third-down plays, giving New England a first down instead of a fourth down.

On special teams, the Broncos weren’t able to convert an extra point on their first touchdown after a botched snap, and Quan Cosby’s muffed punt with three seconds left in the second quarter led to a Patriots field goal.

“What we played today, on all three phases it definitely wasn’t our ‘A’ game,” defensive end Robert Ayers said. “We just got to keep working to where we can play our ‘A’ game every week. That’s what we’re striving for. I think it’s coming, but we just have to keep working.”

DUMERVIL CONTINUES HIS SACK STREAK

While the Broncos' six-game winning streak was snapped Sunday, Dumervil kept his sack streak alive on what was no doubt the hardest hit of the game.

On second-and-10 from the Broncos 49-yard line, Dumervil came off the left edge unblocked and hit Brady, who never saw him. The clean tackle lifted Brady off his feet, and the Patriots quarterback said he’s sure he’ll “be feeling that one in the morning.”

Dumervil now has at least a half of a sack in seven consecutive games. He has 8.5 sacks on the year and 51.5 for his career.

“I was just trying to make a play for the team,” Dumervil said. “I tried to get there. I wish I could’ve gotten the ball out. But he’s a good quarterback. He was able to hold the ball.”

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