Guess who's back?
DeMarcus Ware didn't light up the stat sheet in his return from injury on Sunday. The veteran pass rusher, who played in his first contest since a September matchup with the Colts, recorded one quarterback hit and one pass defense on the afternoon. But the defensive captain's presence was certainly felt.
On a third down in the second quarter, Ware blew off the edge and appeared to record a strip sack on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. Though the play would be overturned on replay, Ware's explosiveness was evident.
"It was great," outside linebacker Von Miller said. "I thought that play was a sack. That's right in his backyard. Legendary. Take a couple of weeks off and he's right back like he never missed a step."
Later, on the most important sequence of the afternoon – a fourth quarter, goal-line stand for the Broncos -- Ware was in the game to keep the Chargers out of the end zone. The Broncos' faith in Ware, even coming off a forearm injury, couldn't have been more clear. And as the game progressed, Ware had to make sure he was there to "take the trash out."
"I played actually a little bit more than I thought I would," Ware said. "It was one of the plays that pissed me off a little bit and I stayed out there a little longer than I should, but when you talk trash a little bit, sometimes it wakes up the monster and that's what I feel like. It heightens my senses a little bit to play a little bit harder. But the plays that I played, I gave it all I had and we were able to get a win."
Movin' on up
Even as the Broncos struggled to find offensive consistency on Sunday, they found the mark on several of their deep pass attempts. Though Demaryius Thomas might have snagged the most important reception of the game with a 40-yard catch with 7:21 remaining in the contest, Emmanuel Sanders likely had the most impressive. With 6:05 left in the second quarter, quarterback Trevor Siemian unleashed a deep ball to Sanders who had split two defenders. The ball was a tad overthrown, but Sanders exploded forward and leapt to grab the football.
The catch marked the first explosive deep pass play of the afternoon for the Broncos, and though the team wouldn't score on the drive, the San Diego corners were served a reminder to respect the passing game.
On the day, Sanders' four catches for 68 yards pushed him past Eric Decker into 14th place on the Broncos' all-time receiving list with 3,106 yards.
Nine scores and 14 months ago
When Bradley Roby crossed the goal line on Sunday afternoon, his score marked the ninth defensive touchdown for the Broncos since the start of the 2015 season.
The Broncos, who are tied with the Panthers for the most defensive scores in that time frame, have made a living off defensive touchdowns – especially in big moments. To name just a few: Aqib Talib's pick-six in last year's opener against Baltimore; Malik Jackson's fumble recovery in Super Bowl 50; and Shane Ray's fumble recovery against Indianapolis.
Time and time again, the Broncos defense has delivered when the team has needed a spark. Perhaps most impressive is the sheer number of players who have turned turnovers directly into points. Six different players combined to score the nine touchdowns, and that wide-spanning playmaking ability is a big reason why the Broncos are 6-2.
"I think that it's something that we cultivated last year," Roby said. "We did that last year and we continue to do that. I think it's part of the players on this team and on this defense. We're playmakers and it can come from anywhere. I think that's one of the bigger reasons we got to the Super Bowl last year and that's one of the reasons why we continue to be successful."
- T.J. Ward became the second Broncos player since at least 1994 to record at least 10 tackles, an interception and a sack in a single game. His 20 TFLs since the start of 2013 rank fourth among defensive backs over that span.
- Trevor Siemian, Corey Nelson and Darian Stewart served as game captains.
- The Broncos improved to an NFL-best 26-7 overall record in divisional play since 2011.
- Devontae Booker became the first rookie running back to start for the Broncos since Knowshon Moreno started against the Patriots in October 2009.