Check out photos from the second half of Monday night's game.
CINCINNATI – Dealing with injuries and going against an offense with several talented weapons, the Broncos' defense faced a big challenge Monday night in Cincinnati.
While they came through with several key stops and a pair of big takeaways, an inconsistent performance wasn't quite enough for the win.
"We did some things well but we did a lot of things wrong," Von Miller said after the game. "We can't play that type of football, especially at this point of the season and especially versus a pretty good team."
The 37 points the Bengals scored – the second-highest total against the Broncos this season – belie how effective the defense was for stretches. Nine of the 14 Bengals' possessions ended with one first down or fewer, and only three of the 14 went for more than 30 yards. In total, the Broncos' defense allowed 353 total yards, slightly above their season average but not a number that normally equates to 37 points.
The final seven points were scored by the Bengals' defense, but hidden yardage on special teams and a big play from the Bengals' offense also were primary factors.
"The kicking game, as far as our coverage units, kind of broke down some," Head Coach John Fox said after the game. "They had nearly 200 yards in the return game yardage. That didn't help our cause as far as field position."
Cincinnati began five possessions inside Denver territory and while the Broncos allowed just 80 total yards on those drives, the Bengals still turned them into 20 points.
"We feel like we have the type of defense that can overcome any situation," Terrance Knighton said. "We held them to field goals."
The other crucial factor was Jeremy Hill's 85-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, which made up for more than two thirds of Cincy's 207 rushing yards on the evening. On the other 36 carries, the Bengals averaged 3.4 yards per rush.
"We gave up that one big play, and that's uncharacteristic of us," Chris Harris Jr. said. "We fixed it and we were able to shut down the run in the second half. We just didn't make enough plays to win the game."
The plays the Broncos' D did make were impressive, and continued a recent trend of increasing takeaways. After forcing eight turnovers in the previous three weeks, the Broncos added two more on Monday night.
On the Bengals' second possession, Aqib Talib jammed A.J. Green at the line as Green ran a quick slant. Andy Dalton's throw was a tad high and the timing seemed a tad off, and T.J. Ward delivered a hit to Green's midsection as the pass arrived. The ball was tipped in the air and Talib nabbed it while diving to the ground before getting up and following a caravan of teammates to the end zone.
Talib said the play was "just how we draw it up," a huge play that gave the Broncos a lead when their offense was still looking for some rhythm.
The defense struck again later at an opportune time, this time to deny potential points by the Bengals. With the ball inside the Broncos' 10-yard line, Hill was stood up on a short running play but remained on his feet as Miller closed and reached for the football. Before forward progress was stopped, Miller ripped the ball from Hill's hands and cleanly into his own. The strip stole a red-zone opportunity from the Bengals and while also setting up a 91-yard touchdown drive to give Denver a 28-27 lead late in the third quarter.
"We practice that type of stuff in practice every day," Miller said. "[Linebackers] Coach [Richard] Smith, [Defensive Coordinator Jack] Del Rio, they preach running to the ball. When you get there, try to get the ball out, try to create a turnover. And fortunately it happened. I'd been running to the ball all game and it paid off for me."
There were some other near misses for the defense. On back-to-back plays late in the first half, defenders got hands on passes from Dalton but couldn't hang on for the interception. On the first play of the fourth quarter, David Bruton jarred the ball out of Jermaine Gresham's grasp, but the ball somehow remained free within the pile, stuck between players' legs and bodies, before being dug out by a Bengals lineman who arrived late to the scene.
"We can't control where the ball's bouncing at," Talib said. "We just control what we can control."
The two takeaways and the just-missed chances are good signs, even though the game didn't produce the desired result. Miller noted that there were certainly positives from the game, things that the Broncos can utilize moving forward."
"We played hard today," he said. "Everything that happened to us, it's mistakes that we can fix.
"I'm confident in all the guys we've got on the field and I'm confident we'll be able to get everything figured out. We're going to watch this one and get ready for the Oakland Raiders."
Check out the best action from the first half in San Diego.