*EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally ran in the Week 16 Gameday program, when the Broncos defeated the Cleveland Browns 34-12.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Sparking a comeback in San Diego. Setting the tone in Carolina. Finishing off a divisional foe in Denver.
In the biggest moments of 2012, defensive end Elvis Dumervil has made his biggest plays. With games on the line, the team captain has been clutch.
"In certain situations, the urgency goes up, for sure," Dumervil said. "The much-needed stop on a two-minute drill, or a crucial third down, or they are backed up in the red zone and you want to get points. Your urgency goes up just a tad bit."
Timing and impact have been undeniable themes in Dumervil's big plays this season. Of his eight sacks on the year, five have come in the fourth quarter. Two have ended games.
Six of them have forced fumbles, as he paces the team in that category and is tied for second in the NFL.
It's not just the sacks and the sack-fumbles that make Dumervil's 2012 campaign special. It's the situations in which they have happened.
Two of his sacks have been followed by game-clinching kneel-downs. Another two led to touchdowns – Tony Carter's 65-yard scoop-and-score in Week 6 that sparked the comeback and started an eight-game win streak, and Trindon Holiday's 76-yard punt return touchdown in Carolina on the play after Dumervil's third-down sack-fumble.
His sack against Houston was in the end zone for a safety and the Broncos' first points of the game, and his strip-sack in New England forced a turnover on downs to keep the Broncos alive. In Cincinnati, he sacked Andy Dalton on a third-down play in the red zone, ending a fourth-quarter drive.
"In those situations, I knew we needed things, needed plays, and I was able to make those plays at that particular moment," Dumervil said. "For a sack, everything needs to be right. You need no one to jump offsides, great coverage, the quarterback to hold the ball just that one second later, the push up the middle. Those things are crucial. So when you get the opportunity, you have to make the best of it."
Defensive Line Coach Jay Rodgers wants his players to recognize when the time is right to go for the ball. He calls Dumervil a "closer" because his experience and intuition have helped him do just that.
"I think what you have to do is put them in a position that they know what to do every time they get that opportunity," Rodgers said. "When he's gotten those opportunities, the ball has been out. He's just done a good job of executing it."
Other defensive linemen on the team understand how difficult it is to jar the ball loose on a sack. Most players are so focused – and in the moment, excited – to get to the quarterback that they are just looking to lay a hit. Dumervil has the presence of mind to secure the tackle while trying to rip, swat or knock the ball away from the quarterback.
"He has a nose for the ball," defensive tackle Mitch Unrein said. "I don't know. You have to almost control your emotions when you're getting close to the quarterback like that, and you have to have the awareness to know where the quarterback is holding the ball and go for it."
Against Tampa Bay, Unrein had a clear path to the passer and said he wasn't even thinking about stripping the ball as he was running at him. Recalling the play, the third-year lineman shook his head.
"That's something he does all the time," Unrein said. "It's really impressive."
Defensive tackle Justin Bannan is in his 11th year in the NFL and knows Dumervil's skill for strip-sacks isn't a common trait, and that mastering it isn't an easy feat.
"He has crafted it over the years," Bannan said. "It's not something that just comes overnight. It comes down to timing. He understands when it gets to a certain point to rip that ball out. He has a great knack for that."
It's no coincidence that Dumvervil's clutch campaign has come in his first year serving as a team captain. At the beginning of the season, his teammates voted him as one of the five year-long leaders.
He called it "humbling" that he has earned the respect of his peers and said he has embraced the role and the added responsibility that came with it.
"He is somebody you can trust in and rely on," Bannan said. "He isn't going to let you down."
Unrein and offensive tackle Ryan Clady, who goes up against Dumervil in practice, both used the word "relentless" in describing Dumervil's effort on the field.
It's a trait that qualifies him as a leader.
"I try to see what he does and try to use that in my game," Unrein said. "He is so good with his hands, and he isn't the biggest guy, but he plays like he is 6-6, 280. That's the way he plays. He is a big-time player. You try to take things from his game, especially his motor. You always see him running down reverses, running down bootlegs, things like that. He just has an awesome motor and I think everyone takes from that and it builds your confidence as a player knowing he's out there with you."
Unrein is impressed by what Dumervil does despite his size. Clady is impressed by what he does with his size.
"He uses his leverage so well," Clady said. "He is a small guy, but at the same time, he has arms the size of somebody that is 6-6, 6-7. So he uses that to his advantage."
A signature of Dumervil's 2012 season is his production against San Diego. The Chargers have been a thorn in the Broncos' side for the better part of a decade. Thanks in part to a pair of clutch performances from its two-time Pro Bowler – three sacks and three forced fumbles – Denver swept the season series with San Diego for the first time since 2006.
After jumpstarting the Broncos' comeback win at Qualcomm Stadium with a second-half strip-sack that led to the fumble-return touchdown, Dumervil shut the door on the Chargers' hopes later in the game, strip-sacking Rivers on fourth down in the final minute.
Three wins later, the Broncos took a stranglehold of the AFC West when No. 92 sacked Rivers on the final play of the rematch – a play that was going to be a Hail Mary attempt with the Chargers down seven points.
Dumervil has disrupted quarterbacks at the most opportune times in 2012. His timeliness, his finishing ability and his knack for knocking the ball loose are skills that he has mastered over the years.
Now, making those plays are instinctive, and that's why they are happening more frequently.
"Once you get the feel of it, it slows down," Dumervil said. "It's to the point, when I get to the quarterback, it's like when I wake up and brush my teeth. I go for that ball."