DENVER — When is a win more than just a win?
When can a victory spur a team forward and start a run?
When does an emotional triumph push a team toward more success?
And is the Broncos' 11-10 win over the 49ers on "Sunday Night Football" that type of game?
If the reaction of Broncos players after the come-from-behind victory is any indication, it just might be.
"It was insane," inside linebacker Jonas Griffith said of the locker room environment after the win. "It felt like a playoff atmosphere. I think the guys, we all feel like we could do something special after that win."
For much of Sunday's game, the Broncos' offense was unable to gain much traction. And as the unit struggled to pick up first downs, the Denver defense did its part. A fourth-quarter field goal, though, seemed to push the Broncos to the edge.
At that juncture, San Francisco held a 10-5 lead — and the Broncos desperately needed to respond. Over the following 10 minutes and 14 seconds of game play, they did just that. The Broncos' offense found a way to embark on a go-ahead 80-yard touchdown drive, and Denver's defense forced turnovers on back-to-back San Francisco drives while clinging to a one-point lead.
When P.J. Locke ripped the ball the ball from Jeff Wilson Jr. and Kareem Jackson recovered, the Empower Field at Mile High crowd roared — and the Broncos earned a victory that was as sweet as it was improbable.
According to ESPN Analytics, the Broncos had just a 22 percent chance of winning early in the fourth quarter. Denver, though, stayed together throughout the struggles — and the Broncos found a way to win.
"It was great to see the team stick together," Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said. "That's a great sign for all of us. We knew it was going to be a game like that. A very good defense — the 49ers. Obviously we have a very good defense too. So we just wanted to make sure we were as efficient as we could, not do anything crazy, not do anything stupid. And I think the guys stuck to the plan. We needed a big drive there at the end, [and] Russell came through. He started running around, making plays. It was a thing of a beauty. In the end, it was about having one more point than the other team. I give so much credit to the 49ers. They're a phenomenal team — their defense, their offense. They're a very good team. That was a heck of a battle."
With the win, the Broncos have now earned two consecutive victories and are tied with Kansas City on top of the AFC West. On a day in which the Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders all lost, the Broncos gained valuable ground on its division. Denver heads to Las Vegas in Week 4 for a matchup with the 0-3 Raiders, and the Broncos will then host the 1-1-1 Colts on "Thursday Night Football."
Ahead of those matchups, the Broncos know they must improve — and Hackett believes there's a benefit to making those changes after a victory.
"I think that as a coach, you always want to coach harder when you win, because there's still so many things that we need to correct," Hackett said. "Offensively, [and] there's probably some things even on defense, even though it was a great game. There's always going to be things that we can correct. We all want to grow as a team. We want to be better on special teams, offense, defense. When you win, you have that ability to coach even harder. For us, to build off of it, heck we had a good win last week. We had another one this week. However we have to win, we're going to do everything we can. We just want to be sure we all stick together."
While the Broncos are working through some kinks on offense, it's entirely possible they could hold a 4-1 record just 10 days after their comeback win over San Francisco.
And as the Broncos move forward, their main focus will be on adding up those victories.
"The best thing you can do is stack wins," Wilson said. "The best thing we can do is stack wins. … I know how hard these wins are. Fortunately, I've won a lot of games here over my lifetime in the NFL. Those games you don't take for granted. Once you get that one [win], it's 'OK, here we go. Let's try to get the next one. Whatever it takes, whatever it takes, whatever it takes.' It just takes what it takes.
"… I think that it's fun. Winning's fun. There's nothing better than winning."
With any luck, Sunday night's victory can help launch the Broncos toward many more to come.