ARLINGTON, Texas — How 'bout them Broncos?
After a week in which the Broncos traded perhaps the best defensive player in franchise history, they turned in their most complete performance of the season to earn a 30-16 upset win over the Dallas Cowboys.
The Broncos were double-digit underdogs, but they used a stifling defensive performance and timely plays on offense to shock Dak Prescott and the Cowboys, who entered the game on a six-game win streak.
And let's be clear: This was no fluke. The Broncos dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, running for a season-high in rushing yards and holding the Cowboys' high-powered rushing attack in check.
Denver opened the game with two big fourth-down stops on defense and used a pair of 80-yard touchdown drives to build their early advantage. The Broncos scored a touchdown in the first quarter for just the third time this season and posted their second-highest first-half scoring output of the year, and they shut out the Cowboys for more than three-and-a-half quarters.
Against an impressive Cowboys team, the Broncos — playing without Von Miller and a slew of injured starters — needed to turn in their best performance of the season. And that's what they did.
With the win, the Broncos improved to 5-4 and have a home date with the Eagles before the bye week.
These are the players and plays that led to the best win of the Vic Fangio era:
The Broncos held a 16-0 halftime lead — which they built in part due to a pair of fourth-down stops early in the game — but the first drive of the third quarter changed the complexion of the game. The Broncos received the opening kickoff, and things couldn't have gone much worse for Denver. Bridgewater was sacked on third-and-5, and the Broncos' punt was easily blocked. It looked like the Cowboys would take over at the Denver 19-yard line with a great opportunity to cut into the lead. The Broncos, though, were the beneficiary of a seemingly obscure rule. After the punt was blocked, a Cowboys player touched the ball beyond the line of scrimmage, which made it a live ball. When Jonas Griffith recovered and ran with the ball, it gave Denver a first down. Instead of the Cowboys gaining possession deep in Denver territory, the Broncos were able to move the ball down the field — keyed by a 30-yard Javonte Williams run and 20-yard Jerry Jeudy catch — to take a three-possession lead and run time off the clock.
The Cowboys entered the game averaging north of 32 points per game. The Broncos held them to just eight points, and that happened in no small part because of the team's success on fourth down. After allowing a big kickoff return on the first drive, Justin Simmons made a tackle for loss on a fourth-and-1. On the next possession, Prescott's fourth-and-2 pass fell incomplete. In the second half, the Broncos held the Cowboys twice more to force Dallas off the field. Denver also allowed the Cowboys to convert just one of their nine third-down attempts until the late moments of the game.
Trevon Diggs entered the game as the league leader in interceptions, but Tim Patrick won his first-half matchup against the impressive Dallas cornerback. On first-and-10 early in the second quarter, Bridgewater had good protection and looked deep to Patrick, who ran a double-move to get a step on Diggs. The cornerback reached for the ball, but the ball dropped right into Patrick's hands at the front corner of the end zone. The play was one of Bridgewater's best throws of the season, and it gave Denver a double-digit lead.
Javonte Williams ran angry and had his first career 100-yard game, which set a career high for the rookie (111 yards).
Tim Patrick posted his third-highest output of the season with 85 yards and averaged more than 20 yards per catch.
The Broncos' entire defense deserves credit, as they held the Cowboys' third-ranked scoring offense to 16 points and a combined 1-of-13 on third and fourth down until the late moments of the game. The unit set the tone early and held up for most of the game to help earn the win.
Jonathon Cooper had two sacks as he played without Miller or an injured Malik Reed, and Caden Sterns snagged a pick in his homecoming to Texas.
Jonas Griffith also gets a nod for having the presence of mind to grab the ball after the blocked punt, which saved a possession for Denver.