DENVER ** – The members of the Broncos defense aren't concerned with what side of the ball the team is known for. They just want to be a complete team.
Sunday's 24-17 win over the Bills was a testament to the progress the defense has made this season and was more evidence that it can pull its weight beside one of the NFL's top offenses.
"We complement each other," Terrance Knighton said of both sides of the ball. "We force turnovers, and did what we had to do field-position wise. Special teams didn't affect the game negatively. 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."
Browse photos of the second half of the Broncos' home game against the Bills.
A lot of that success on Sunday was the product of three forced turnovers. While the turnover battle was a tie at three, the timing of the Broncos defense's turnovers and what the offense did with the possession made a clear difference in the game.
Early in the second quarter after the Broncos held the Bills to a field goal, Peyton Manning was picked off by T.J. Graham as he underthrew Emmanuel Sanders deep. With the help of David Bruton's forced fumble on third down, which was recovered by the Bills, the Broncos' defense was quickly able to reduce the negative effect of the turnover.
Following Manning's second interception, Chris Harris Jr., who led the Broncos' defensive charge on Sunday, stepped in and minimized the damage following the turnover as he picked off Kyle Orton on the Denver 2.
The Broncos were able to take the ball downfield after that play and score a 50-yard field goal, putting the Broncos up 24-3.
Harris "tried to fill up the stat book" during the game with five tackles, one sack, one interception and one pass defensed. Harris was targeted multiple times throughout the night as he was consistently covering highly-touted rookie Sammy Watkins. On the Bills' following drive, Harris had his first sack since November 2012. He was key in helping the defense stop drives and set up the offense with good field position.
He said the defense takes pride in giving its offense the short field.
"We want to make plays," Harris said. "We gave up a lot of yards today, but a lot of those were garbage, but we ended up coming out with a lot of turnovers, and if we're giving up a lot of yards, we want to come back with a lot of turnovers, so that's what we did today."
In addition to Harris' pick, which he ran back for 38 yards, the Broncos' defense was able to get the ball back into Manning's hands on two other occasions.
The Broncos began Sunday's game with a similarly excellent start to the one they had in Kansas City, where they began the game by forcing three three-and-outs.
As Watkins attempted to take the ball downfield after a 13-yard gain during the Bills' first drive, Bradley Roby swung his arm around him while tackling him and the ball came loose and Rahim Moore was there to scoop it up. On their next drive, the Bills failed to find success on a fourth down conversion, turning the ball over on downs, which led to a C.J. Anderson touchdown.
On the Bills' drive preceding Harris' pick, Brandon Marshall had his own interception, the first of his career. As the Broncos rushed Kyle Orton, Marshall dropped into coverage and stepped in front of Scott Chandler, looking for a short gain on first-and-20, and nabbed the ball.
"When I caught it I was like 'Oh I got one, I finally got one,'" Marshall said. "I've been trying to get that all year so I'm glad it finally came and I'm just happy."
Marshall had gotten extremely close to getting that first interception a few times, but hadn't been able to come away with it.
"He had so many opportunities to get a couple of picks," Von Miller said after the game. "I asked him one time, 'Do you like nice things?' He chuckled, but I know it's tough. He definitely had opportunities to come up big. He came up big for us, him and Chris Harris had a heck of a game for us."
The Broncos' offense faced a tough defense on Sunday night as the Bills ranked in the top ten of nearly all major defensive categories going into the game, but the opportunistic defense picked up the slack.
The Broncos allowed the Bills to accumulate more yards than any opponent all season with 415 (188 came in the fourth quarter) and Kyle Orton's stat line looked more like it should be Peyton Manning's, but the Broncos contained the Bills when they needed to and made key stops to maintain control of the game. Like Harris said, the turnovers countered the Bills' ability to drive downfield.
This is the Broncos' second-straight week with three takeaways. Last week against the Chiefs, the offense was one-of-seven in the red zone. The defense picked up the slack then, as well, containing the Chiefs and holding them to 16 points.
Earlier this week, Harris noted that the defense is now fully playing as a team and with enthusiasm. The energy the defense showed on Sunday proved that point and he said it makes them a much tougher team. Harris reminded the media on Sunday: "Defenses win championships."
"The great defenses who get the ball back for the offenses, that's what great defense is all about," Moore said. "And that's what we did and that's what we've been doing these past two weeks. It's been great to be a part of it, so I'm very honored and blessed that we're playing great football, and we're finishing, too.
"It hasn't been all cute, but at the same time we're finishing and we're getting better each week."