From Chris Harris' first sack of the season to C.J. Anderson's three touchdowns, check out the shots of the game from Sunday's win over the Bills.
DENVER —**Good things came in small packages for the Broncos in one of their final home games in the holiday season. The small packages added up to help them on offense and defense.
Broncos find favorable field position
Though the Broncos and Bills each had three turnovers, the resulting consequences of each told very different stories that ultimately gave the Broncos some key moments.
The Broncos succeeded in turning one interception into a field goal while the Bills got no points from their turnovers. And while the Bills did take away a possible scoring drive with the Broncos knocking on the door near the end of the first half, the fumble simply turned into Buffalo running out the clock starting at their own 10-yard line.
Denver also benefited from a turnover on downs when Brandon Marshall denied a pass to tight end Scott Chandler down the right sideline. It may not count as a turnover, but the Broncos started their possession at their own 39-yard line and proceeded to march down the field for a touchdown.
Meanwhile on the other side, the Bills often shot themselves on turnovers, failing to give their offense short fields that turnovers often provide. A 60-yard interception return by Corey Graham was negated by a holding penalty, and instead of starting their drive at the Denver 20-yard line, they started at their own 40-yard line, ultimately going three-and-out and punting. In addition to the fumble recovery deep in their own territory before halftime, the Bills got little help on another turnover in the third quarter. Stephon Gilmore had picked off Manning and returned the ball 48 yards to the Denver 38, but an unnecessary roughness penalty pushed them all the way back to their own 26-yard line. All in all, the Bills lost 76 yards to penalties on interception returns and both ended up in giving possession back to the Broncos via punt or an interception of their own.
And that one Bills punt after their first interception was a disaster for them, too. Punting from the Bills' own 46, Colton Schmidt could have pinned the Broncos in dangerous territory. But Lerentee McCray got his fingers on the kick, deflecting it out of bounds at the Broncos' 40-yard line.
On the flip side, the Broncos' got great field position from their forced turnovers. Bradley Roby forced a fumble on the Bills' first drive, and Rahim Moore recovered it at the Bills' 46; Brandon Marshall's interception gave the Broncos the ball at their own 33-yard line; and Chris Harris Jr.'s pick not only put a stop to the Bills' possession in the red zone, but he also returned it 38 yards to the Broncos' 40-yard line. All in all, the Broncos started possessions at their own 42-yard line while the Bills began at their own 19-yard line on average.
"As a defense we know the ball is important and the more possessions we give our offense, the higher we're going to score and the less points they're going to get. It's simple," David Bruton Jr.said. "It's easier said than done, that's for sure, because everybody in the league is a great player but we just go out there and execute and try to make those plays and whatever we have to do to help the offense and help our team win."
While the turnovers were certainly key plays on their own, the little things that happened immediately afterward to influence field position proved key for each teams' offense.
Bruton's big day
Prior to Sunday, David Bruton Jr. had totalled 14 defensive snaps. The special teams captain had battled nagging injuries toward the beginning of the season, missing the first couple games, but was a four-down player during the game against the Bills, playing 74 percent of the Broncos' defensive snaps and 82 percent of special teams plays.
"I thought he did tremendous," Head Coach John Fox said. "I can say it might be the best game at safety that I've seen him play since I've been here."
Leading the team in tackles with nine, Bruton played a solid game, reading plays in the flats and stopping them immediately, and made some big plays in coverage.
The key for him making those plays, according to Bruton: "Scheme — Jack making the right calls in those instances and having my eyes right and also just taking full advantage of the opportunity and keeping my eyes on my man and making sure I make the play and not have missed tackles out there."
The flashier highlight plays, however, fell just outside of his grasp, unfortunately. On one play in the fourth quarter just a few yards from the end zone, Bruton jumped Scott Chandler's route for an interception. While everyone assumed the play was dead, Bruton rose to his feet and sprinted 100 yards for what would have been a touchdown, followed only by a referee. But upon review, the ball skimmed the ground right before before he caught it, so it was ruled an incomplete pass instead.
"It was surreal," he said. "[I was] caught up in the moment. [I] thought I had it. It hit the ground, obviously, but caught up in the moment, I get up and the ball's in my left hand and I'm thinking 'My arm is underneath the ball, OK yeah, I definitely have this thing.' But it was a great feeling just hearing the crowd get that loud and get that amped and hopefully one will come for 100 yards plus."
Then later in the quarter, Bruton tracked a pass aimed for Chandler again deep down the right sideline. But right as Bruton went up for the ball with perfect positioning, Aqib Talib didn't see him coming and the two collided.
"One's coming," Bruton said. "I just got to keep working hard and practicing hard and knowing the opponent."
And in addition to that, he said he'd also have to increase his conditioning if he is to play on all four downs on defense and special teams like he did on Sunday.
"It just lets me know I have to be more in shape if I'm going to play that much. It just was a great opportunity," Bruton said. "Definitely, I didn't want to come off the field defensively or special teams, no matter how tired I was, just having that mindset to go out there and perform to the best of my abilities, no matter what my role is."
And then how else would Bruton have finished his game but in his space as a captain on special teams, diving on the onside kick and effectively ending the game.
Emmanuel Sanders, still tough as nails
There doesn't seem to be much Emmanuel Sanders can't bounce back from. After one big hit from Stephon Gilmore on the left side of the field near the line of scrimmage, Sanders was hit hard before the ball reached him. Gilmore was flagged for a defensive pass interference call, but that was little consolation for Sanders, who lay on the field for a moment gathering himself.
And then Sanders got up. Fired up, he shrugged off help and faced the crowd to give them a Mile High salute. Sanders finished the game with 56 yards in the air and 13 yards on the ground, but his intensity was the most notable part of his game that night.
"Yeah, I just got the wind knocked out of me," he said. "But I had to bounce back up and the whole goal was to let whoever did it, the opponent know that, look, we're not going to back down and hopefully it brought energy to my team and to the crowd. I enjoy playing this game and I'm passionate about it, that's the reason I did it like I did."
That energy has been something that Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase has noticed ever since Sanders signed with the Broncos.
"That's always been since we got him," Gase said, though it wasn't something he knew would be there at this level. "You never know, because it's not like a draft process. You get an unrestricted free agent, you don't know what he's developed into as a pro. And then we got him, and he was through the roof. I mean the guy's been unbelievable as far as every day—day in and day out—working, classroom, meetings, walkthroughs, practice. It's been unbelievable."
Fox expressed the same thoughts, noting how impressed he's been with that passion day in and day out. "It's one thing on tape, but when you're with a guy every day in the building, the way they prepare—whether it's in the weight room, the training room, the meeting room, on the practice field—I think you learn to appreciate it more," he said. "He's a tremendous competitor and he works at it very hard. I don't know that we knew all of that in free agency but obviously we knew enough to like what we saw to sign him. So I think he's just built on that since he's been here."
That's just the way Sanders is. This was a prime example of how he plays the game and his mindset, as he would describe it.
"Only the strong survive and I'm not going to back down," Sanders said.
Browse photos of the second half of the Broncos' home game against the Bills.