Capping a comeback: The anatomy of a game-winning drive

DENVER — When Case Keenum arrived in Denver in March, he spoke proudly of his postseason success with the Minnesota Vikings.

He was just two months removed from the Minneapolis Miracle that spurred his team to a win and him to a free-agent contract. And it was all most reporters wanted to ask Keenum about.

Keenum, though, made it clear he had goals past his game-winning pass to Stefon Diggs.

“To be honest, I’m ready to make some more memories,” Keenum said in mid-March. “I got real close to the big game. I got a taste of what it could be like. [It was] my first real, live playoff atmosphere [and] game situation. I’m hungry. I’m not satisfied with where we got to. I want more. So I’m ready to hit the ground running, and I’m ready for more."

And while Keenum’s game-winning drive on Sunday against the Raiders wasn’t for a playoff win — or even a playoff berth — it was Keenum’s first taste of “more.”

The 10-play, 62-yard drive erased any bad memories of a first-half interception. Instead, the lasting visual from Sunday’s game will be 76,000 Broncos fans screaming in unison as wide receiver Tim Patrick ran away from Oakland cornerback Gareon Conley to set up Brandon McManus’ game-winning field goal.

Over nearly two minutes of game time — and eight minutes of real time — Keenum guided the Broncos to a 2-0 start to the season.

“Any time you have a game where you drive in the fourth quarter, it feels pretty awesome,” Keenum said Sunday. “This week was a lot of fun. They are all special. This is incredible — starting my first two games at Mile High."

It was just one win, but it was a look at what’s possible for this Denver Broncos team.

This is the anatomy of a game-winning drive.

First-and-10, 1:58 to play, Denver 20-yard line

Keenum and the Broncos get off to an inauspicious start. Raiders defensive end Arden Key beats his man and races into the backfield. He almost knocks the ball away from Keenum, but other damage is done when Garett Bolles is called for offensive holding.

First-and-20, 1:51 to play, Denver 10-yard line

Backed up at their own 10-yard line, the Broncos keep tight end Jake Butt in to help protect Keenum, who fires a quick slant to Demaryius Thomas. Rashaan Melvin knocks the away the pass, and it falls incomplete.

Second-and-20, 1:47 to play, Denver 10-yard line

Denver goes three wide and keeps the pocket clean for Keenum, who needs 20 yards for a first down. He finds Emmanuel Sanders for 21. Sanders slides to make a catch at the 31-yard line, and the Broncos get their first break of the drive.

“[Offensive Coordinator] Bill [Musgrave] made a great call on that second down. Emmauel ran a great route. I thought the offensive line did an incredible job on that last drive. We just needed time.”

As Sanders slid down with the ball, it looked like they might have just enough of it.

First-and-10, 1:25 to play, Denver 31-yard line

The Broncos rush to the line but do not spike the football. Keenum looks deep for Thomas, but the ball is over the veteran receiver’s hands. Thomas and the Broncos’ sideline looks for a pass interference call, but they don’t get it. The Broncos remain 30 yards away from McManus’ target line.

Second-and-10, 1:21 to play, Denver 31-yard line

Keenum drops back and finds Jake Butt on a crossing route. The tight end, playing in just his second game, shoves linebacker Tahir Whitehead away and picks up three or four extra yards. Every foot is critical.

First-and-10, 0:58 to play, Denver 45-yard line

The Broncos again move quickly to the line, and Keenum faces near-immediate pressure. With a defender in his face, Keenum looks for Courtland Sutton in the left flat. The ball is overthrown, but Denver’s quarterback doesn’t take a sack and the clock stops.

Second-and-10, 0:54 to play, Denver 45-yard line

A few minutes after running a quarterback draw on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Keenum makes another play with his legs. He pump fakes from the pocket and then takes off to his right. Keenum attempts to gain the first-down yardage, but he’s brought down by Whitehead a few yards short.

“Case should play running back,” Sanders said. "He is a competitor. We played high school football in Texas. [When you play] football in Texas, you become a football player, not just a quarterback or wide receiver. It showcased tonight.”

The Broncos have no timeouts, and the clock runs.

Third-and-3, 0:26 to play, Oakland 48-yard line

On an extremely important snap, Keenum makes a smart play. Tight end Jeff Heuerman runs right to the sticks, and Keenum finds him on a quick out. There’s not much time left, but the Broncos have another set of downs.

A drive like the one Keenum engineered takes maturity. It takes composure.

So what was Keenum like in the huddle on Denver’s last drive?

Like steak sauce, according to running back Royce Freeman.

“A1,” Freeman said. “It was great. He didn’t flinch. He’s been through many situations like this. He’s not new to it. To have a quarterback like him is definitely comforting for a last drive like that.”

First-and-10, 0:22 to play, Oakland 44-yard line

On the CBS broadcast, commentator Bruce Arians notes the Raiders’ pass rush is exhausted and must blitz to bring pressure. They do just that. Keenum is forced to fire a quick throw, but he and Thomas can't connect on a sideline throw that would’ve put McManus in field-goal range around the 30-yard line. For a moment, it appears the Broncos have wasted an opportunity. They need at least five more yards. Will they get it?

Second-and-10, 0:18 to play, Oakland 44-yard line

The Broncos can't have many snaps left now.

Patrick is lined up to the left with Sanders, and he runs an underneath route to the sideline as Sanders runs over the top over Conley.

The Raiders cornerback is caught. Does he stay with Sanders and prevent the deep pass, or does he come up to tackle Patrick at the 40-yard line?

For a moment, it appears he’s going to bail with Sanders, and that’s all Keenum and the Broncos need. Keenum hits Patrick, and in the open field, the Broncos wide receiver makes a move past Conley. Then he dodges cornerback Leon Hall.

Patrick streaks down the sideline before stepping out of bounds at the 18-yard line.

McManus just needs to convert a 36-yard field goal.

“I knew he was going to make it,” Head Coach Vance Joseph said later.

The crowd roars, and Keenum walks off slowly.

“I take a second on walking off of those drives,” Keenum said afterward. “I have not had many.” 

He can add this one to the list.

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