DENVER – The ball hung up in the air far too long for Todd Davis' liking.
In reality, the football Darian Stewart jarred loose from Alfred Blue floated free for just under a second, but Davis suggested after the game the play seemed like it took 12 seconds.
The time of the play was inconsequential. The timing couldn't have mattered more.
After two consecutive three-and-outs for the Broncos offense to start the second half, the Denver defense needed a big play to maintain a 14-9 lead. With 4:46 to go in the third quarter and the Texans on the Broncos 34-yard line, the defense found a way to create a critical turnover.
Stewart charged down from his free safety spot, shed a half-hearted block attempt from Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and lowered his shoulder into the gut of the Houston running back.
"It's like the hole opened up for either me or him," Stewart said. "I just played my game, and once I saw him I just attacked. It's one of those plays, you're really just out there playing ball and laying it all on the line."
The play "emphasized the momentum" that the Broncos already had, Davis said, and it gave Denver an opportunity the team would not squander. The offense pieced together its first sustained drive of the second half and traveled 72 yards to the end zone.
A 1-yard Devontae Booker touchdown run gave the Broncos the breathing room they needed and changed Monday night's contest from a close affair to a comfortable victory.
The Broncos didn't wait long to take advantage of another big play. On the Texans' next possession, quarterback Brock Osweiler lost control of the football as he attempted to throw the football. Denver had nothing to do with the turnover's inception – Osweiler dropped the ball without being touched – but a heads-up play by cornerback Chris Harris Jr. ensured the Broncos would walk away with the football.
With most other players standing around, Harris scooped up the football and gained possession before a referee blew his whistle. Stewart said afterward he hadn't seen a play like that in a "long time," but he was glad the team's insistence to scoop up footballs that hit the ground in practice translated to a game.
Rookie safety Will Parks said he knew right away the play was a fumble, but he couldn't think of a time in real life when he'd seen a quarterback lose control of the ball without being touched.
"I've seen that on a video game," Parks said. "I [haven't] played Madden in a while, but that's the last time I [saw] it: Madden '14. I don't know who was on the cover. … Was I on the field that play? I don't know. But when I [saw] that happen, I was like, 'Wow.' That's all you can say."
The play stood after video review and the Broncos took over at the Houston 25-yard line. The offense would march the ball to the Texans 3-yard line before settling for a field goal that pushed the lead to 15 with 11:31 remaining in the game.
The offense certainly noticed – and appreciated – the spots in which the defense put them in the second half. Two of the Broncos' three scoring drives in the second half began inside the Texans 35-yard line, and all three stemmed from either turnovers or a turnover on downs.
"That was huge," Sanders said. "We know we've got the No. 1 defense — at least I feel like we do. They came out and they played [aggressive] today and capitalized on two turnovers that were huge for us."
The two fumbles ensured the Broncos would win the turnover battle for the first time since a 27-7 win in Tampa Bay. While Harris said the Broncos fell short of their goal of three turnovers, he acknowledged that the two huge plays they made were "crucial" to the team's success.
Stewart's partner in the defensive backfield, T.J. Ward, doubled down on Harris' statement regarding how the turnovers swung the game in the Broncos' favor.
"We needed those," Ward said. "Both of those. They were just huge plays and that's what we pride ourselves on: making huge plays when we need them the most."
Ward was right there as Stewart made the play on Blue to cause the first game-shifting turnover. As Stewart shed a block, so did Ward. As Stewart lowered his shoulder, so did Ward.
After the game, though, Stewart made sure to confirm that he was the one who forced the ball out.
"I did," Stewart said with a laugh. "I'm taking it because T.J.'s already got two on the season. I need one, at least."
On Monday night against the Houston, the Broncos needed both.