ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos entered October with an 0-4 record, won two of their next four games and then knocked off the Browns on Sunday to head into their Week 10 bye at 3-6.
It's hardly Denver's desired record — especially given the Broncos' three final-minute losses — but the recent 3-2 stretch is seemingly a stretch in the right direction.
In each of the last three seasons, the Broncos have held a 3-6 record.
In 2017, the Broncos started 3-1 before eventually falling to 3-8. Last season, the team began the year 2-0 and then dropped to 3-6.
But while this year's record is the same through nine games, this year's Broncos team seems to have taken strides.
"I definitely would say that it feels like pieces are coming together and not so much that pieces are falling apart," starting linebacker Todd Davis said. "I definitely feel like we're [in] a difference space, and if we continue to build it's going to be great for us."
Led by Brandon Allen, the Broncos' offense tied its highest point total of the season on Sunday and the defense is ranked fourth in the NFL. And Head Coach Vic Fangio said he thinks both Allen and the defense both have room to improve as the season continues in Week 11 against the Vikings.
"I think another week of practice will do him wonders, which we'll do when we come back from the bye and we'll have an extra practice that week," Fangio said Monday. "He's at the point where he knows our offense and he's been in our meetings since he's gotten here. … [He] didn't get here until after preseason was over. Now he's getting an opportunity to practice more. Just practice, I think, will produce the improvements we're looking for."
Allen completed 12-of-20 passes on Sunday for 193 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. His 125.6 quarterback rating was the third highest by a Broncos quarterback making his team debut.
The defense can only improve so much, as the unit ranks in the top five in passing defense, total defense and red-zone defense and ranks ninth in scoring defense. That won't stop Fangio from trying, though.
"We just need to, I believe, cover a little bit better at times in one-on-one coverage situations," Fangio said. "We didn't have a good day yesterday in the secondary of tackling their receivers mainly after they caught the ball. That's been unlike us for the most part. I'd like to see a little bit more pass rush. Those are some of the things."
If the Broncos can make those adjustments, they may have the chance to add more victories after the bye week.
"We've had those three 'walk-off' losses, as you describe them," Fangio said. "A few of those kickers turned around and missed their next opportunities for that. We are 3-6. Could we be better? Yes. Could we be worse? No. I don't really know how to answer that question other than we've had more than our chance to have a much better record than we do, but it is what it is."
Davis and the Broncos, however, aren't giving up hope on the season.
"A win right before the bye is huge," Davis said. "It further contributes to the fact that we feel like we're building. I think everybody has come in here focused. We talked about it recently: Why can't we win out? There's nothing saying we can't win out the way we're playing right now. How we're playing as a team shows that we can win the games we have going forward. And then, who knows what our season holds for us? I think it does keep us together. It keeps us focused."
SIMMONS LEAVING AN IMPRESSION
Fourth-year safety Justin Simmons racked up eight total tackles and a pair of tackles for loss against the Browns, and none was bigger than a third-down tackle for loss on the Browns' final possession.
Simmons crept up to the line of scrimmage just before the snap and burst untouched into the backfield. As Nick Chubb tried to run to the left side of the line, Simmons crashed from the right edge and chased Chubb down. The TFL set up a fourth-and-4, and the Broncos proceeded to force an incompletion.
Fangio said Monday he can't recall what he thought of Simmons when he was evaluating the Boston College product in 2016, but he knows how he feels now about a player who has recorded two interceptions through the first nine games.
"I don't remember, but I do like him now," Fangio said. "I've liked him early on from getting here. I do like Justin, I think he's a really good player and I see a bright future for him in a Broncos uniform."
FANT'S BIG DAY
First-round pick Noah Fant rebounded in a major way from some rookie struggles, as he caught three passes for 115 yards and a touchdown. The score came on a 75-yard catch and run during which he broke three tackles.
Fangio said he believes Fant's success can help him maintain the right mentality moving forward through the rest of the year.
"I think it can," Fangio said. "I'm a believer in doing it on the field gives you confidence. Not imagining it, not sitting on some psych's couch and not thinking it. You have to go out and do it. He did it yesterday. He's had other times this year where he's done it, albeit inconsistently as you alluded to. Hopefully this will be a game that can put him over the top and at least he knows he can do it. If a game's not going his way in that regard, he still knows he can do it. The next play might be the one."
Fangio said he didn't yet know if tackle Ja'Wuan James (knee) would be able to play against the Vikings. James exited the Broncos' Week 1 game, returned for the team's Week 8 game in Indianapolis and then reaggravated his injury in that contest. He missed Sunday's game against Cleveland.
It also remains "up in the air" whether Drew Lock will return to practice ahead of the Broncos' game against the Vikings in Week 11.
"Since we're not practicing this week, we don't have to make a decision until next week," Fangio said.
HEARING BACK FROM BLACK
Fangio visited with Rockies manager Bud Black earlier this season at one of Denver's practices, and Black sent Fangio a congratulatory text after Sunday's win over the Browns.
"We've [struck] up a little friendship there," Fangio said. "He had a rough season, as you guys know, although he is a very high-qualified and good manager. He's just trying to help through the rough times. Bud's a hell of a good guy and I'm glad I've gotten to meet him."