DENVER — It was as if the Broncos' offense had heard all of the pointed criticism.
That despite their pledge to ignore the TV standups and newspaper articles, they were somehow more than aware of the commentary that focused on the offense's shortcomings.
The inability to start fast. The reluctance to stick with the run game. The struggle to light up the scoreboard.
In the Broncos' 38-10 win over the Detroit Lions that kept the team in the thick of the AFC playoff race, they negated those concerns.
Denver started the game on offense, and after a symbolic delay of game penalty with just 10 men on the field, the Broncos moved forward with ease. Spurred by three plays of at least 10 yards and a 14-yard pass interference penalty, Denver pushed the ball into the red zone and scored on a 5-yard Javonte Williams carry.
Williams' score was the Broncos' first opening-drive touchdown since Week 6 against the Raiders, and it was just the team's second opening-drive touchdown of the season.
Denver's offense didn't stop there, as the Broncos got the ball back and again marcheddown the field. This time, they followed an 11-play 75-yard drive with a 12-play, 74-yard possession that was capped by a Melvin Gordon III touchdown run. When the first quarter came to a close, the Broncos had 11 first downs, 135 yards and were 3-of-3 on third down. On those two possessions, Denver ran the ball 18 times for 82 yards.
"Our two running backs have been doing that all year, but I think a good bit of credit needs to go to the O-line and the tight ends," Head Coach Vic Fangio said of the team's early running success. "You know, any time you hand it off 39 times [in a game] and the other team knows you're handing it off that many times, and you are able to grind out the yards — credit to the guys doing the blocking. But our two backs are really, really good, and I love them both and glad we have them both. You know, no one is going to carry it 39 times by themselves."
The Broncos had not scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives to start a game since Week 14 in a 2019 win over the Texans. Early against the Lions, though, the Broncos showed their potential as an offense.
That success continued as the game progressed, as the Broncos took advantage of a late defensive stop in the first half to add more points to the board. After getting the ball back at their own 22-yard line with 1:05 to play in the half, Teddy Bridgewater and Co. marched to the Detroit 46-yard line. With 12 seconds left, Bridgewater hit Jerry Jeudy in the middle of the field for a quick seven-yard gain, and the Broncos sprinted to the line of scrimmage to spike the football. The Lions were whistled for an offside penalty, and Brandon McManus was put in position for a 52-yard field-goal attempt.
"We had a bad stretch there where they got 10 points on us in two successive drives, but we were able to answer with a nice two-minute drive at the half where I think we managed the clock well," Fangio said. "That final play where we were able to get that extra [seven yards] and get it spiked in time — we worked on that play this week in practice. I would pick out certain situations to work on in practice — you can't work on them all every week or you'll need lights at the [practice] facility — but the guys executed it well, and Brandon nailed the kick. You know, that was big. 38-10 was the final score, but those three points were big."
The Broncos — spurred by a fumble recovery on the Lions' opening possession of the second half — added touchdowns on their first two drives of the second half, as well. The Williams and Gordon touchdowns — who else? — put the Broncos up 31-10 and iced the game when the third quarter was only halfway gone.
Gordon and Williams combined for 194 total yards and four touchdowns, becoming the first pair of Broncos running backs to each have two touchdowns in a game since 1962.
Denver capped the game with an 88-yard drive — a perfect length on this afternoon — to score 38 points for the first time since that win over the Texans. The Broncos matched their high point total under Fangio and crossed the 30-point mark for the second time this season.
En route to those points, the Broncos' situational football was near flawless. The Broncos converted 8-of-12 of their third downs and scored touchdowns on all five red-zone trips. Denver is now 8-of-8 in the red zone in its last two home games.
"Just a week ago when we played the Chiefs, I think we stunk it up in the red zone," Bridgewater said. "It's all about just trying to be consistent. When we played the Chargers, we were three for three. Today we were five for five. If we could just be consistent down there, make sure we can be consistent, then we'll come away with points."
The key to the Broncos' offensive breakout was likely spurred by a multitude of factors, including execution, play-calling and great individual plays.
Bridgewater joked there may be another factor at work.
"The quarterbacks and I, we started getting Chick-fil-A milkshakes on Saturday night," Bridgewater cracked. "'Ryp' [Brett Rypien] and Drew [Lock], they get the peppermint chip milkshake. I get the cookies and cream. I think that's probably what it is. The times that we've gotten milkshakes, we've had some success in the red zone, third down — so maybe that's what it is. We're just trying to find a way to win, and it's great to just get a team win today."
If that's the case, keep the milkshakes coming — and the points, too.