Broncos Analysis: Denver beats Pittsburgh Steelers behind four turnovers (Ryan O'Halloran, Denver Post)
Even after four consecutive losses appeared to derail their season, the Broncos kept saying the right things. More importantly, they kept believing the right things.
They would start to win close games. Takeaways would come at critical times. Their running game would serve as an offensive foundation. And they would absolutely not give up hope even while everybody around them was debating who should replace coach Vance Joseph and which player should be targeted in the first round of next year's draft.
All of their optimism, confidence and resolve were rewarded Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Broncos' fourth takeaway, an end zone interception by defensive tackle Shelby Harris with 1:03 remaining, sewed up a 24-17 upset win, giving them their first winning streak since Weeks 1-2.
"Most teams would lose their minds (during the rough patch) and not play hard and not work every day but this is a reward for sticking together and having great chemistry," Joseph said.
With big Week 12 wins, Broncos, Colts shake up AFC playoff race (Lindsay Jones, The Athletic)
"You've just got to keep battling. Eventually, I feel like everybody knows, everybody who watches football knows, we've got a good football team. We've got great players," Sanders said. "We've got a new quarterback and a new system, and it's going to take time for us to grow. I'll tell you what, I feel like we're headed in the right direction where we need to go to get the job done."
Sanders and veteran teammates like cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and outside linebacker Von Miller are cautious about looking too far ahead. Harris Jr. insisted he's not thinking about playoff possibilities yet, and Miller went so far in his post-game comments to pull the hoodie of his sweatshirt over his head and channel Patriots coach Bill Belichick and answer six questions with the answer that the Broncos are "On to Cincinnati." (The Broncos play the reeling Bengals next week.)
So we'll look ahead for them. After playing the Bengals (who have lost three straight), the Broncos' next three opponents, Cleveland, San Francisco and Oakland, are all currently last in their respective divisions.
"We can't overlook anybody. The way we got to this point right now is by just playing it just one week at a time," receiver Courtland Sutton said. "Just keep fighting, that's the only way."
Playoffs? Yes, Broncos talking playoffs after beating Pittsburgh in same way they won Super Bowl 50. (Mark Kiszla, Denver Post)
The mindset on that big play? "Knock his (butt) out," Parks said.
And that's precisely the attitude that turned thousands of yellow Terrible Towels into tissues to dab at crying eyes of Pittsburgh fans who had stormed the stadium, anticipating a seventh-straight victory by their beloved Steelers.
Denver pulled off the upset with a blocked field goal by Justin Simmons, an interception by Harris, a fumble recovery by Darian Stewart and lots of the good stuff that made former defensive coordinator Wade Phillips wear big chains and a big smile on the way to Super Bowl 50.
"That's what a good football team does, they take advantage of the opportunities given to them," said running back Phillip Lindsay, the undrafted free agent who ran for 110 yards.
Broncos survive gauntlet to remain alive in the playoff race (Jeff Legwold, ESPN)
As Denver cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said last week: "Nobody -- nobody -- has faced what we have this year. We haven't always played the way we can, we know that, but nobody has had to line up against what we have this year, we've played the hottest teams in the league, all of them."
And here they are at 5-6, not always much to look at, but they are a tested bunch that is suddenly staring at relevance. None of the Broncos' next four opponents has a winning record and none have faced what the Broncos have to get to this point.
"If you love what you do, you're going to find a way, that's where we are," safety Darian Stewart said. "We love what we do, we stick together and we believe we can find a way. Even sometimes when it doesn't look like we might be able to find a way."
"I was in the post and my main objective this week was to double 84 (Steelers' receiver Antonio Brown),'' Parks said. "And I seen the dude (Grimble) open and I took off and my speed got there. And when I got there I said, 'I can hit him.' And I hit him right on his chest. He had the ball up here (at his chest) and I hit him on the ball.
"I definitely knew I hit him before the goal line. I heard the crowd going crazy and I thought, 'he must have fumbled.' And I looked back and they said, touchback. And I say, "Hell, yeah, let's go!''
It was the signature play of the half as the Steelers in each of their four offensive possessions traveled to at least the Broncos' 30-yard line, but they got zero, zero and 3 points, and would have settled for 3 more if not for a well-executed fake, field goal pass by for a touchdown on fourth down and the final play before intermission.
Four takeaways, another big win and perhaps a saved job: How the Broncos did the improbable against the Steelers (Nicki Jhabvala, The Athletic)
The Broncos' celebratory locker room was reminiscent of the one a week prior, when the Broncos thwarted the Chargers' hot streak and returned to Denver with their first divisional road win of the Vance Joseph era. With the successive victories, hope has been restored to a franchise that was mired in disappointment and facing another losing season on their own mistakes.
"We're at a 'whatever it takes' type mindset," Case Keenum said. "We said that for the last two weeks, but we're going to take it one week at a time. We're going to try and go 1-0 and just literally whatever it takes. We're not leaving any field with any shots left. We're going to fire all of our shots."
The difference Sunday? The difference this year on the whole? A rediscovered knack for big plays — four takeaways for the defense on Sunday — and a resiliency that has prevented mistakes from snowballing.
Baker Mayfield and Philip Rivers take control: Week 12 in the NFL (Albert Breer, MMQB)
It's the second straight week that a big defensive play (after Miller's pick against the Chargers) has pushed Denver through—last week sparking a comeback, this week blunting an opponents'—and Joseph doesn't see that as a mistake.
"Our team has put a lot of work in, and we played some good football the last two months, and we've come up short against some very good opponents," Joseph said. "I told the guys, 'This is a reward for your work and your belief in what we're doing.' There was no way the work we put in and the good football we've played the last two months wasn't going to be rewarded.
"Some of the calls and some of the balls were bouncing the wrong way against us, but now we're getting some of those calls, we're getting the ball bouncing our way."
Shelby "Big Papa" Harris celebrates new baby and a Broncos season with new life (Paul Klee, Colorado Springs Gazette)
For the record, Shelby "Big Papa" Harris was right. His math checks out.
As he paraded through the Broncos locker room after a sensational 24-17 win over the Steelers, the 290- pound defensive tackle raised the game ball like it was Simba and shouted for all to hear: "It's bigger than my baby!" The length of a football is 22 inches. Two days earlier, his daughter was born three weeks premature. Evelyn Rochelle measured 18 inches.
"Not a bad week, huh?" Harris said with tears welling up in his eyes.
After his 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter held as the winning score, Lindsay handed the ball to left tackle Garett Bolles for the celebratory spike.
"They deserve it," Lindsay said of his offensive line. "They're out there putting their body on the line 24/7. They get the least talked about out of everybody and they come in here ready to work. On top of that, people were (trashing them) at the beginning. They deserve everything they get. They're out there working."
Lindsay now has 780 yards – on a fabulous 5.8 yards per carry – with five games to go. He topped the team's previous undrafted rookie record of 729 yards set by Selvin Young in 2007 and he's on pace to surpass the 1,007 yards C.J. Anderson had last year as the best undrafted rushing season in Broncos history.
Broncos' Shelby Harris celebrates newborn daughter, game-sealing interception versus Steelers (Kyle Fredrickson, Denver Post)
Shelby Harris somehow found balance Sunday between becoming a dominating force and an emotional wreck.
"There were multiple moments during the game," he said, "where I could have just burst out in tears."
The Broncos' reserve nose tackle was happy to share that sentiment. Just not from the source you might expect. Harris sealed an upset victory at Mile High when he intercepted Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's pass in the end zone with a minute left. When Harris spoke from the podium after a 24- 17 victory, he laid out his atypical postgame plans.
"I'm going to go in the locker room after this, drink a water or a Gatorade, get in the car, drive to the hospital and sit there the rest of the night," Harris said. "There's no celebration, man. I'm just happy I've got a healthy baby, a healthy wife and healthy family."