ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Going into halftime Sunday, the Broncos held a two touchdown lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers. They had 11 first down plays so far on the day, and had run the ball on all 11 snaps.
The coaches noticed that as the Broncos kept using the same formula on first down, the Steelers' safeties started to cheat and play closer to the line of scrimmage, anticipating the run.
In the locker room, the Broncos staff went to work. They grabbed some whiteboard markers and drew the Steelers defensive formation on the board. If the safeties continue to creep down towards the line of scrimmage, they said, the Broncos could exploit it by going for a pass over the top.
"We went in a halftime and saw some things that we were doing in the game just from running the ball and how the safeties were coming down," wide receivers Demaryius Thomas said. "We drew it up and said we might come to this play at the end of the game or during the game if we need it."
Sure enough, with the score knotted at 23 and the game heading to overtime, Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy called the play.
If the Broncos won the toss, they were going to start on offense, line up in the one of the formations they had used to run the ball on 23 of 24 first-down plays, set receiver Eddie Royal in motion toward the offensive line -- another staple of a run-play -- and do something nobody expected them to do: throw for the game-winning score.
The Broncos won the toss and elected to receive. McCoy pulled Thomas aside on the sideline before he took the field and told him he could end the game with one play.
"I was talking to Demaryius before the series," McCoy said. "I said, 'If we win the toss, this is what we're going to go to. If they play the right coverage we could end in a hurry, or if they play a different defense, we still have a good play.'...If they play a certain coverage it could be one-and-done."
"How he drew it up, that's exactly how it happened," Thomas said.
Center J.D Walton snapped the ball to Tebow, who faked a handoff to running back Willis McGahee -- sucking the safeties in -- and then threw the ball over the middle of the field to Thomas, who raced down the field for an 80-yard, catch-and-run touchdown.
That play was just one of many examples when the Broncos made adjustments during the game. Games never go as scripted, so teams have to account for that and play accordingly.
In the Broncos' matchup against the Patriots this week, the way both teams adapt on the fly will impact the outcome.
"I'd love to have a crystal ball and know what the defense is going to do every snap, but that's the game," McCoy said. "With our style of offense that we're running right now, we have to make a lot of adjustments like the touchdown pass to Demaryius."
Like that touchdown pass, the Broncos have shown that when they carry out the changes efficiently, they can be very successful. It doesn't take much to turn a sputtering offense into a smooth, well-oiled machine.
"In the second half, look at the Minnesota game," McCoy said. "You can't play any worse as a football team in the first half, and then we made one or two adjustments in the second half and we light up the scoreboard."
The Patriots are no strangers to making changes either. In the last two weeks, New England has come back from 17-0 and 21-0 deficits to win the game. In the last meeting between these two teams, Denver held a 16-7 lead early before New England came back and outscored the Broncos 34-7 the rest of the way.
"They've gotten out to some rough starts in the last few games, but you look at Miami and they're down 17-0 and the next thing you know they've scored 27 points," Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen said. "You look at Buffalo and I think it might have been 49 points. It was 21-0 and they ended up scoring the next 49 points of the game, so this is an extremely explosive offense. They execute very well."
With that in mind, it's no wonder Tebow said on Tuesday that he has no idea how this season will end. There is no script.