NEW ORLEANS —** Emmanuel Sanders was sick of all the chatter. Even in the moments right before Sunday's thrilling 25-23 win over the Saints, he heard the same criticism that the offense had heard in the days leading up to the game.
"We've been getting beat up all week," Sanders said. "Even before the game, I was watching television and they were talking about our offense and how we're stagnant and can't get first downs on third down."
The Broncos defeated the Saints 25-23 in an epic finish at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. (Photos by Eric Bakke, unless noted)
So he and the offense went out and put previous performances well behind them. On their first possession, they conducted an 85-yard touchdown drive capped by Jordan Taylor's acrobatic catch on the right edge of the end zone. Denver converted three third downs, got five first downs, held the ball for 7:15 and got the early lead.
These were the main things the offense struggled with against Oakland but fixed against New Orleans. From Week 9 to Week 10, Denver more than doubled its time of possession (18:32 to 39:22), first downs that weren't from penalties (10 to 23) and third-down conversion rate (27 percent to 58 percent).
"We got off to a good start as a team," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "That's been a problem. Got off to a good start as a team, got ahead. The turnover right before the half hurt, but it boils down to third downs. I think we were 11 … for 19, so that gives you plays. We didn't run the ball good, but we ran the ball. It gives you a chance to run the ball."
Though the Broncos averaged just 2.8 yards per carry, they ran it early and often. On first-down rushing attempts, the Broncos fared better with about 3.43 yards per carry, which helped the offense avoid long third downs.
"We converted some big third downs, which was one of our big emphases coming into the week: Stay on the field to give us a chance to run the ball, and stay with a little more balance," quarterback Trevor Siemian said. "I think we just ran more plays, too. So that helps. Did some good things, but again some things we need to clean up."
Those offensive woes weren't the only problems the Broncos corrected a week after a disappointing loss in Oakland. The defense, which was gashed to the tune of 218 yards on the ground, rebounded by holding New Orleans to 80 yards and just 3.8 yards per carry, even without starting defensive end Derek Wolfe. Special teams, of course, provided the game-winning play and had a 17-yard punt return from Jordan Norwood. For his unit's impact, Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis was given a game ball.
A week after a visibly frustrated Kubiak delivered harsh truths about how his team had been outplayed by the Raiders in each phase of the game, the Broncos delivered improved performances in each phase at exactly the time they needed before heading into their bye week.
"I've got to get this team fresh for the last six, because we're really going to play in six playoff games," Kubiak said. "We're going to play in a lot of big games, here, down at the end of the season, but I think for the first 10 weeks' work, I think obviously we've got to get better and we can get better, but I'm really proud of how hard we fought and where we're at right now. We've just got to freshen up and get ready to go."