ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After Denver's 30-16 win over the Cowboys, it's fair to properly celebrate one of the team's biggest wins of the last several years.
The victory — which few outside the organization believed to be possible — seemed to count a little bit more than just a tick in the win column. Even just a day after the win over the Cowboys, the Broncos appeared to have renewed swagger as they look to continue their win streak.
"I think it was a big momentum boost for our next couple games," defensive lineman DeShawn Williams said. "It was just one of those weeks where we heard the naysayers. I don't think anybody picked us to win the game because of that record, and a lot of people said we'd never beaten a quality opponent. I guess we just wanted to shut everybody up and just go out there and play our brand of ball, and I think we did that."
The Broncos, though, know the impressive showing in Dallas won't mean much if the team can't continue its momentum in Week 10 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"There's nothing like winning, and we've won two in a row," Head Coach Vic Fangio said. "The whole focus is to get to 6-4 now and nothing else. We had to put all our energy — physically, mentally and emotionally — into that."
The Broncos currently sit 11th in the AFC standings, but they're jumbled in a clump of eight teams with five wins on the season. With the Chiefs and Raiders also scheduled to face off this weekend, there's a path for the Broncos to enter the bye at the top of the AFC West. It's been nearly half a decade since the Broncos held the division lead that late in the season.
If Denver can play to the level it did on Sunday, there's no reason to suggest the Broncos can't be right in the division hunt as the season continues.
"I mean, that is the standard and what we want," Fangio said of Sunday's performance. "Is it always going to be 30-0 with five minutes to go into game? Probably not. We played Washington the week before and had to hang on there at the end. Every week is a new adventure, but I do think the guys saw the way they're capable of playing with a lot of so-called backups in there and people missing. It doesn't matter who's out there. We still have a chance to go win and play well."
Just two weeks ago, the Broncos' chances seemed to flicker. Denver entered Week 8 on a four-game skid, and the team's playoff hopes were precarious. Fangio and his team were able to stay the course despite the odds, and they've given themselves a chance to return to two games over .500 and secure their second three-game win streak of the season.
"You just have to have a steady hand through everything," Fangio said. "… It's a six-day life span here in this league. We're on to the next one, win or lose. [We're] getting the focus back, correcting errors — win or lose — and then having a good week of preparation. The teams that do that the best are standing at the end of the day."
The Broncos are still standing, and they're hopeful they'll enter a packed Empower Field at Mile High on Sunday against the Eagles.
"Yesterday's game is one reason," Fangio said of why Broncos fans should pack the stadium, as they often do. "They saw it if they watched it. They had to be excited to see that team play yesterday the way they did against that opponent on the road. Hopefully, we won a few of them back."
There are a slew of reasons why the Broncos have returned to the win column in the last two weeks, but Denver's third-down performance is certainly among the most important.
Through the first seven weeks of the season, the Broncos converted just 31.8 percent of their third-down attempts, which ranked 27th in the NFL. Over the last two weeks, that rate has improved in dramatic fashion. In wins over Washington and Dallas, the Broncos are a combined 15-of-28 (53.6 percent) on third down.
"Well, we've avoided the third-and-really-really-longs," Fangio said of the team's improved success. "That's one place to start. We've converted some third-and-8s, third-and-9s and third-and-10s, which we weren't doing earlier. Any time you can do that and keep the drive going, you get a new set of downs, and it gives you a chance to hand it off another time or two and run a play[-action] pass or two. You get a rhythm then. … You're going to face a third down eventually, and you have to convert them."
As the Broncos built a 27-0 lead in a little more than three quarters, Denver took advantage of its short third downs and converted several of the long opportunities.
The Broncos were 4-of-5 when facing third-and-3 or fewer, and they also converted five times when facing at least third-and-8.
SHIFTING IN THE SECONDARY
The Broncos may have to do some more shuffling in their secondary after cornerback Pat Surtain II exited the game with a knee injury. The injury is not expected to be season-ending, but the Broncos would need to shift some players around if Surtain must miss time.
Ronald Darby should remain one of the outside cornerbacks, and Fangio said Darby has settled in well the last two weeks.
"He's played better the last two weeks," Fangio said. "I thought the first week or two after he came back from IR, he was, for lack of a better word, rusty. I think he's more confident and more comfortable now, both getting back mentally, and playing within the defense to where the hamstring [injury] is history to him."
Kyle Fuller, who received a game ball after playing nickel corner, left corner and right corner during Sunday's game, could also be an option on the outside for the Broncos. Fangio said he'll have to see how the injuries develop before he is certain of where Fuller will play, but he was pleased with the way Fuller handled the challenge against the Cowboys.
"There's a guy yesterday that has never played nickel in his whole career," Fangio said. "He got a three-day crash course on it and was set to play. Then he had to go to left corner first, and then he had to go to right corner, or vice versa. He was ready. Kyle is a pro. He hasn't been happy with his role here of late. We've talked about it, but he was ready to go. He embraced the challenge of playing nickel with one week of preparation."
Fuller had played just four snaps over the last three weeks before he played 60-of-62 snaps against Dallas.
If Fuller were to return to the outside cornerback spot where he played earlier in the season, Nate Hairston could be an option to play in the slot. Hairston has played 48 defensive snaps over the last two weeks. The Broncos also activated cornerback Duke Dawson Jr. from the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list on Monday. Dawson has appeared in 26 games since the team traded for him in 2019.
Cornerback Essang Bassey, who was designated for return to practice last week, could potentially also be an option if he's healthy. Bassey started three games and played 382 defensive snaps for the Broncos last year.