From on the field to inside the locker room, the emotional scene after a thrilling overtime victory over the Bengals.
DENVER —** As the playoffs approach, the Broncos returned home for Monday's prime-time game against the Bengals looking to escape from a dark funk. Second-half struggles in consecutive losses to the Raiders and Steelers threatened to send the Broncos spiraling as they looked to close out the season.
They needed a quick return to form, and they got just that with an emotional 20-17 overtime victory that clinched a playoff spot and erased any concern that the Broncos would fall flat to end the calendar year.
"We just needed this, emotionally," outside linebacker Von Miller said. "We have been through a tough past year and we just needed it, emotionally."
After a 7-0 start to the season, the Broncos have faced their toughest challenge yet in trying to correct troubling second-half concerns that have allowed a charging Chiefs team to close the gap for the AFC West. And down 14-3 after one half, the Broncos were on a path that would have resulted in losing control of the division and continuing a losing streak at the worst time of the season.
Denver needed a win in the worst way, and they got it, putting them in the driver's seat for a first-round bye, in addition to the AFC West title.
"It feels very good, especially from the last three games, when we play really well [in] the first half and then come out and being unable to finish the second half and now it was flipped a little bit," outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "We didn't play well the first half and we came out and really wanted the second half and [we were] able to finish the game."
That finish was a memorable one, too. Offensively and defensively, the Broncos regained the features that made them so dominant in recent first halves. The passing attack was formidable, and the rushing duo of C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman provided a sharp balance. The defense returned to form after a half without a sack or quarterback hit, and made first-year quarterback AJ McCarron and the Bengals offense wildly ineffective.
The offense scored a touchdown in each of the final two periods, and although Cincinnati would tie the game in regulation, Brandon McManus kicked a go-ahead field goal in overtime to take a lead the Broncos would not relinquish.
And for a second straight overtime game at home, fans at Sports Authority Field at Mile High got to see their team wrench victory from their opponent on a walk-off play. McCarron mishandled a snap out of shotgun and Ware dove on the loose ball, ending the game.
"When I saw it on the ground, I was so close to it, I'm like, 'There's no way that somebody's going to take this ball from me,'" Ware said. "It felt great to finish the game that way."
Finishing had been tough for the Broncos lately. Prior to the past two weeks, Denver was a team that seemed to constantly find ways to win games, and instead against Oakland and Pittsburgh, it was those teams finding a way.
So while the win meant a lot in the way of playoff positioning, the resiliency the Broncos showed in ending their streak might have meant even more.
"We just needed to find a way win, regardless of how ugly it is," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "We just knew that every playoff game is going to be like that. That was a playoff game today. In the playoffs, you've just got to figure out the way to win."