CHICAGO —** The Broncos don't need to produce takeaways on a weekly basis to have a great defense. After all, they were perhaps most suffocating in a dominant showing against Green Bay without forcing a turnover. But it must be able to close games at key points when it has the opportunity, and that was something that was missing in the past couple weeks as the Broncos went on a two-game skid.
However, it was able to do both on Sunday in Denver's 17-15 win on the road in Chicago.
The Broncos topped the Bears, 17-15 at Soldier Field. Here are the top shots of the game.
You could go back and find plenty of moments that could have been pivotal, but ultimately none would be more important than the Bears' two-point conversion attempt that could have tied the game with less than a minute left in the game.
"We know what we have to do," defensive end Malik Jackson said. "It's us against them, man against man. 'Can I push you back?' and 'Can I stop you?' and that's all it is. [...] It's just put your hand down in the ground and let's go."
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had conducted a 65-yard drive capped by rookie running back Jeremy Langford punching in a two-yard run off the right guard. In a nearly identical situation, the Bears went back to that same well on the conversion attempt, but amid some confusion with Cutler changing the pass call to a run at the line, safety T.J. Ward got into the backfield unblocked and tripped up Langford at the line of scrimmage with inside linebacker Brandon Marshall and DE Derek Wolfe closing in for the stop. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas recovered the following onside kick and the Broncos wrapped up the win.
"They got down the field on some calls and we finished the game off," Ward said. "We didn't let them in a couple of times when they were down there and I think that just shows the type of football we like to play on defense and what we can do when we have our back against the wall."
The defense also got its first turnovers since the Week 6 game against Cleveland, with ILB Danny Trevathan picking off Cutler on a pass over the middle and Jackson recovering a forced fumble.
Or was it two interceptions?
"I think it was an interception," Jackson said."I'm an honorary member of the No-Fly Zone. I got some batted balls and I got an interception.
Though it was originally classified as an interteption, the turnover was reclassified as a fumble forced by Miller and recovered by Jackson. Through the magic of slow-motion instant replay, it became evident that Miller got to quarterback Jay Cutler before his arm began a throwing motion. Cutler's arm went forward without the ball in his grasp, yet he hit it in midair, sending the ball careening off a lineman's back into Jackson's grasp.
Regardless, the turnovers cut into the Bears' momentum and allowed the Broncos to control the clock a bit more. However, the offense couldn't turn either possession into points to add on their lead.
"We gave up some plays but we kept finding a way to make a big play," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "Danny makes a big play, [but we] didn't finish on those two drives. Danny's interception is the one we're going to make fourth-and-1 and he's sitting there going 'Oh no.' We just kept battling."
But what might go unnoticed is the effective effort of the defense in the first half, which didn't produce the turnovers or big moments of the second half.
The impact was tremendous, even if the possessions ended in two made field goals.
"I don't think people really understand [...] how big of a difference a field goal and a touchdown is in a game," Ward said. "It's a huge difference. If you can hold on the field goals even if you're coming off of a turnover or whatever it is, that's what you've got to do."
The defense did just that, protecting a lead that the offense earned on the first drive. The Bears threatened to overtake it after stopping the Broncos at their own 5-yard line to force a punt with 5:19 left in the half. Chicago took possession on the Denver 49-yard line, but the Broncos forced a three-and·out to stop their progress after gaining seven yards. A potential 59-yard field goal attempt was ruled out of the question, and the Bears punted the ball right back to the Broncos. Osweiler and the offense marched 82 yards to kick a field goal as time expired.
The defense didn't make a stunning single play or force a turnover, but it stepped up to hold the Bears at a crucial situation.
There were times that it struggled, particularly as some defensive penalties added up on a couple Bears scoring drives, but holding strong at critical times has proved to be a recurring characteristic of this defense.
"We made big plays defensively but we have to continue to cut down the penalties that obviously hurt us but we make the biggest play you can* *make at the end."