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Sanders, starters thrive late in half

Posted Aug 23, 2014

With Emmanuel Sanders’ return and Montee Ball and Von Miller making their 2014 preseason debuts, the Broncos’ starters flourished during the first half on Saturday night.

DENVER - Thursday after practice, Emmanuel Sanders expressed the importance of him getting reps during Saturday night’s game against the Texans. After a groin injury kept him out of last week’s game against the 49ers and he didn’t have any receptions against Seattle, he wanted to get in-game catches with Manning before the season-opener against the Colts.

It appears that the extra work Manning and Sanders put in during OTAs, minicamp and training camp paid off.

Down 7-3 with 1:41 left in the first half, the Broncos got the ball. On the third play of the drive, Manning found Emmanuel Sanders deep down the middle for a 67-yard touchdown with Eddie Pleasant and A.J. Bouye following close in pursuit. Sanders felt the love from the Broncos fans as he jumped in the crowd during his celebration.

The Broncos defense forced a three-and-out on the Texans’ next drive, giving the Broncos the ball back with 32 seconds left. After connecting with Wes Welker twice in a row for first downs and an unnecessary roughness call on the Texans tacking on another 15 yards, Manning found Sanders deep for a 29-yard touchdown, which he pulled in as he dove into the end zone.

While Sanders’ five receptions for 128 yards in his Broncos debut was the highlight of the starters’ night and gave them a 17-7 lead going into the locker room, Montee Ball also made his preseason debut after undergoing an appendectomy on August 4.

Ball was very productive during the Broncos’ first drive, his only one of the night. With eight total touches, he recorded four carries and four catches for 34 total yards. But that drive ended in the red zone and the Broncos settled for a 32-yard Matt Prater field goal.

The starting offense finished their night with 289 yards on 41 plays. Peyton Manning completed 21-of-27 passes for 243 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

While two big playmakers on offense made their mark on the game during their returns, so did Von Miller, who hasn’t played in a game since December after suffering a torn ACL. Miller and the first-team defense had a nice night, including Miller’s near-interception of Ryan Fitzpatrick.

While the offense came to life with two minutes left in the game, the Broncos defense remained consistent, only allowing the Texans 117 total yards on offense, including just 37 rushing yards.

Bradley Roby, starting for Chris Harris Jr., stood out early. He made a great stop on the defense’s first play of the game, with a pass break up on Andre Johnson. On third-and-4 at the Broncos’ 8 later in the half, Roby stood up Johnson and forced a fourth down.

But, Jonathan Grimes ran the ball up the middle for a touchdown on the next play.

DeMarcus Ware also made key stops on defense. On third-and-6 during the Texans’ second drive of the matchup, Ware showed he still has linebacker chops as he dropped back into coverage and tackled Keshawn Martin short of the marker to get the Texans’ offense off the field. On the Texans’ next drive, the defense forced a three-and-out, with Ware almost getting to Fitzpatrick-- forcing him out of the pocket and an incompletion on third-and-9.

The defense only gave up one explosive play, a 24-yard pass from Fitzpatrick to Grimes. The defense maintained a tough mentality in limiting Houston’s offensive gains, holding the Texans to one score in the half and preventing big gains with only one play over 15 yards.

While the offense got off to a slow start, it’s clear that the new faces on the Broncos, both those recently acquired and those returning from injury, will make an impact early on this season.