DENVER -- **What you are in September is not always what you become by December.
In September, the Broncos struggled to run the football with any power or consistency, plagued by defensive tackles pouring into the backfield to the point where running backs were met behind the line of scrimmage on 39 percent of their carries in the first three weeks. By November, the Broncos had three consecutive games in which they ran on less than 36 percent of their snaps, and in St. Louis, they ran on 15.2 percent of their plays.
What's happened to the Broncos since then is not an evolution. It's a U-turn.
And although Sunday's 24-17 win over the Bills lacked the steady series of jabs on the ground that defined their previous two wins over Miami and Kansas City, the Broncos remained persistent through the early modest gains, sustained their commitment and, eventually, reaped the rewards.
They held fast to their game plan averaged 3.3 yards per carry in the first half, knowing the run game's value to creating play-action opportunities and wearing down the Bills. Early in the second half, they got their reward when rookie Juwan Thompson broke around left end for a 47-yard sprint that was the Broncos' longest rush in three years.
By the end of the game, Thompson and C.J. Anderson combined for 121 yards on 25 carries and Anderson ran for all three of the Broncos' touchdowns. They forced Buffalo to temper its pass rush, provided time to throw when it was needed, and ground down the Bills.
Grinders, in the NFL, keep plugging away, even when explosive results are there. Grinders have faith that eventually fundamentally sound play gets the results they want, and wears down a foe.
Being grinders is an identity the Broncos now embrace.
"I think so. I mean just look at the little bumps and bruises that we had today that people fought through. That takes a lot," Anderson said. "Everybody's grinding. We all have a goal and our goal is to hold it up at the end of the day."
Each of the Broncos' last three opponents took the field treating the game as though it was played in January; all eventually fell as the Broncos tenderized their foe with runs were productive, and helped set up deep opportunities in the passing game.
And if they can avoid giveaways like the three that plagued them Sunday, then per-pass-play production like the Broncos had Sunday -- 8.7 yards, their fourth-highest of the season -- will ensure that part of the offense remains efficient. That, in turn, will keep defenses off-balance, open up the running game and create symbiosis between the two aspects of offensive football.
The Broncos' goal this season was to have a complete team, one that didn't define itself solely by how far quarterback Peyton Manning's right arm and brain could take them. In recent weeks, they've achieved it.
"Oh, yeah. Much more complete, and we've got our identity now," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr.
The Broncos bristle at the notion that they have a defensive identity, an offensive identity, a passing identity or a rushing identity.
Why can't they be all of them?
"We should be known as a team. We complement each other," said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. "There's going to be some weeks where our offense is firing on all cylinders and we have to pick it up too, so it works hand-in-hand. You never know what you're going to get. But when the offense is doing bad, we expect to pick them up, and when we're doing bad, we expect them to pick us up.
"Right now, I think this is the most complete our team has been."
And now, it's a team that can run to temper a potent pass rush, a team that can overcome two interceptions from Manning, and a team that can win on the speedway or off-road.
"Whatever's called, we can execute," Anderson said. "And the more times you execute, the more reps you win out there, (then) the outcome will be what it was [Sunday]."
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Browse still shots of the field action during the first half of the Broncos' game against the Bills.