ENGLEWOOD, Colo. –When Danny Trevathan came up with a diving interception late in the fourth quarter in a tied game, it was understandable for Head Coach John Fox not to want to give the ball back to the Cowboys.
That meant the Broncos had 1:57 of clock and 24 yards to work with while the Cowboys had three timeouts on their side.
Although Denver was already within field-goal range, Dallas had scored touchdowns on all four of its second-half drives before the interception. Those four Cowboys touchdown drives averaged nearly 75 yards in just under two minutes, so milking the clock was important to the Broncos.
"We communicated we did not want to score with time remaining," Fox said after the game. "Fortunately, it worked out that it was executed well and we got the 'W' and never had to go back on the field again."
Denver picked up a first down on its first play, a pass from Demaryius Thomas to Demaryius Thomas that went for a gain of 13 down to the Cowboys 11-yard line.
Since Dallas had all three timeouts to use, that meant Denver needed one more first down to use up the entire clock.
That didn't leave much room to get a first down without scoring as the first-down mark was at the 1-yard line.
After a Knowshon Moreno 1-yard run, Manning connected with tight end Julius Thomas. Thomas managed to avoid scoring, but went out of bounds to stop the clock without forcing Dallas to use its final timeout.
"I thought Julius did a good job on his play," Manning said. "He followed instructions by not scoring – probably would have liked him to stay in bounds (laughs) – but he did follow part A and didn't score, which was important."
That completion went for 8 yards to the Dallas 2-yard line, which put the Broncos in an interesting predicament.
Third-and-1 from the 2 with 1:40 to play.
A touchdown would give Denver a seven-point lead, but would also leave plenty of time on the clock for the Cowboys offense. A stop for no gain or a loss would mean Denver would have to settle for a field goal attempt and open the door even wider for the Cowboys to tie or win the game on their ensuing possession.
"I've never been in a situation quite like that in the end where we needed to get the first down but we didn't need to score," Manning said after the game. "That difference was about half a yard. Knowshon and I were arguing at the end. He basically was asking, 'How am I supposed to do that. How can I get half a yard but not get a yard and a half?' I just said, 'You can't. You can't score. You can't do it. We have to get the first down, kick a field goal and get out of this place.' We kept it pretty close there at the end."
Moreno executed the play perfectly, falling forward for a 1-yard gain to pick up the first down without scoring. That forced Dallas to call its last timeout and let Peyton Manning center the ball, and then kneel twice to drain the clock down to two seconds.
That's when Matt Prater stepped on and delivered the game-winning kick as the clock hit zeros.
At any point in the drive, the Broncos were ready for the possibility of the Cowboys defense allowing them to score to get the ball back with time on the clock.
"We spend our weeks going over scenarios and situations," Fox said on Wednesday. "It was something that we discussed and talked about. It was communicated to the huddle, we were well aware that could be a possibility."
"It was a unique situation," Manning added. "We call it first down, fall down and a lot of times that's in the open field but his job was to get the first down but not score a touchdown and he did that. So we work on situations in training camp. I've never quite had that one simulated before but I thought it was good that we did that. I thought we played it just right."