The Broncos' only touchdown drive in their 41-16 loss to the Patriots could represent a building block as the offense attempts to find some consistency after a seven-game run in which it did not produce 20 or more points in any outing.
It all began with a little stroke of luck.
After two plays that resulted in no gain, Brock Osweiler was hit by New England's Trey Flowers as he stepped up to attempt a third-down pass. The ball floated up and into the hands of Demaryius Thomas, who alertly plucked the pass out of the air for a 17-yard gain.
As is often the case, a fortuitous moment became a launching pad for what would be a 13-play, 75-yard march to Thomas' second touchdown in as many games. But while passes to the eight-year veteran provided the first and last bursts of yardage, what happened in between was defined by the Broncos re-establishing the run.
Their next three plays were carries by C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Charles and Andy Janovich that moved the chains, capped by Janovich's 3-yard plunge on third-and-1. Charles ran four more times for 26 yards on the drive, and Anderson had a 7-yard run to the New England 1-yard line wiped out by a penalty.
The drive showed the value of balance, even with a sizable deficit.
"What you do is you just keep playing," Anderson said. "At that time, we told ourselves, 'We score, it's 16-27, defense gets a stop, we score again, it's 23-27 somewhere in the third quarter going into the fourth [quarter]. That's how we looked at it."
Denver averaged 4.75 yards per carry in the second half, gaining 57 yards on 12 attempts, which represented 40 percent of the offense's second-half snaps. It was the second-highest percentage of second-half run plays since the bye, surpassed only by the 41.0 percent of plays on the ground in the loss at Kansas City, which was another game that saw the Broncos move the football effectively in the third quarter before late miscues short-circuited a comeback attempt.
Game scenarios and reactions to opposing defensive looks limited the use of the run in the second halves of the other games since the bye. For example, against the Giants in Week 6, the Broncos ran on six of 36 second-half snaps, in part because they struggled on the ground in the first half, particularly on first-down plays.
Another key to continued improvement is belief, said Anderson, who ran twice on that drive.
“You’ve got to speak into existence and continue to play hard and continue to tell yourself, ‘You can do this,'" Anderson said. "For us as an offense, we need to continue.
"As leaders on this team, continue to push it and continue to lift the team up to let them know that this is possible. It’s been done, so why can’t it be us?"
"It" in this case is a seven-game winning streak to turn the season around and get the Broncos where they want to go. If the Broncos are to make that happen, they will need more drives like this one, which saw balance, third-down conversions and a strong finish that many other series in the last seven games had lacked.