CINCINNATI --** With 63,000 screaming fans and a Bengals team hungry for a win bearing down on them Sunday afternoon, the Broncos didn't blink.
Facing a fourth-quarter deficit, Denver outscored Cincinnati 14-3 down the stretch to come away with a 31-23 win at Paul Brown Stadium.
"We knew this was going to be a tough game and a team that is (coming in) on three losses in a row and had a bye week -- you're kind of coming into a hornets nest," Head Coach John Fox said. "I was proud of our guys just to hang in there and find a way to get that score at the end."
The win moves the Broncos to 5-3 at the halfway mark of the season.
The first half on Sunday wasn't packed with fireworks, as the Broncos led the Bengals 10-3 at the break thanks to a touchdown catch by wide receiver Eric Decker and a 43-yard Matt Prater field goal.
But things picked up right away after halftime.
Standing 5 yards deep in his own end zone, Trindon Holliday fielded the kickoff to start the third quarter and expected teammate Lance Ball to tell him to take a knee for a touchback.
"I heard him yell, 'Go,' so I just took off," Holliday said.
A team-record 105 yards later, he was in the end zone to give the Broncos a 17-3 lead.
"We talked about getting off the second half with a good start," quarterback Peyton Manning said. "You can't start any faster."
But the Bengals had a quick score of their own, thanks to a 52-yard catch-and-run by tight end Jermaine Gresham. Two plays later, Dalton found wide receiver A.J. Green -- who caught seven passes for 99 yards -- past cornerback Champ Bailey for a 10-yard touchdown to trim the Denver lead to 17-10.
On the following drive, the Broncos looked to have an answer, as the offense methodically moved down the field until it entered the Cincinnati red zone. The drive, which featured two third-down conversions, reached as far as the 9-yard line, but Manning's pass toward Decker was intercepted by Cincinnati cornerback Terrence Newman in the end zone.
A nine-play Bengals drive resulted in a 49-yard field goal to trim the Denver lead even further, and when Newman intercepted Manning's first pass on the next drive -- which began on the 1-yard line -- the Broncos looked to be in trouble.
"Newman made a good play down there in the end zone," said Manning, who finished with 291 passing yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. "I'd love to have that back, but give him credit. Then we got the ball backed up and the second one was a poor decision on my part. Just cannot put our defense in that kind of bind backed up. He made a good play again, but it was a poor decision on my part."
It took just four plays for Cincinnati to find the end zone and take its first lead of the game, 20-17, thanks to a 2-yard plunge by BenJarvus Green-Ellis with a little more than 14 minutes remaining in regulation.
"Nobody blinked," Bailey said. "We kept moving. We just kept grinding. That's all you can really do. That's a good football team. When you come into their house, they're not going to let you just come in and win easily."
First, it was the offense's turn.
A 30-yard pass from Manning to Decker on third down and a pass interference penalty drawn by wide receiver Demaryius Thomas in the end zone spurred on a five-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by a 1-yard touchdown catch by tight end Joel Dreessen. The effort pushed Manning past Dan Marino for first place in NFL history with 48 career game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Then the defense chimed in. Facing a third-and-25 at his own 18-yard line, Dalton threw a pass toward Green that was intercepted by Bailey.
"Anytime somebody scores a touchdown on you, you want to get a little redemption," Bailey smiled. "It was good to get it in this game."
The pick, Bailey said, came in part because Dalton was "a little rattled" by the pressure brought by the front seven. The Cincinnati signal caller was sacked five times -- three courtesy of linebacker Von Miller.
Denver's offense didn't waste the opportunity, driving 46 yards down a shortened field for another Manning-to-Decker touchdown and a 31-20 lead.
Cincinnati was able to grab a field goal with less than a minute remaining to pull within eight points, but safety David Bruton recovered the ensuing onside kick for the Broncos and Manning took a knee twice to seal the victory.
With three consecutive wins under their belt, the Broncos won't rest on their laurels. It gets back to a mantra Fox reminded the locker room of after the win.
"What's better than 3-0? 4-0," Dreessen said. "So we have to go on the road and do it again in Carolina."