Check out the top shots from the Broncos' comeback win over the Dolphins.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Broncos rebounded from an early deficit with a balanced offensive attack and timely defensive play for a big win on Sunday. We revisit a few keys that stood out in the victory over the Dolphins.
SANDERS SHOWS TOUGHNESS, RESILIENCY
After taking a vicious hit last weekend, Emmanuel Sanders should have been proud just to suit up for Sunday's game against the Dolphins. But knowing how competitive the 5-11, 180-pound receiver is, he wasn't going to settle for just being on the field.
"I love to play this game," Sanders said afterwards. "Obviously this is what I'm passionate about. I give it my all every single game. I give it my all every single day at practice and I just want to be successful."
Sanders played 68-of-75 snaps just a week after suffering a concussion and, according to Sanders, a hyperextended knee against the Rams.
His presence proved crucial early, as he converted consecutive third downs in the second quarter with catches of 18 and five yards. Later that quarter, Sanders came through for one of the biggest plays of the game, with the Broncos facing a 3rd-and-20 and down 11 points with less than a minute remaining in the first half.
Sanders ran a stop-and-go and got second-year corner Jamar Taylor to bite, forcing Taylor to commit illegal contact on Sanders as he released for the deep portion of his route. With a flag on the ground and Sanders bumped off his path, it would be fair to simply expect an automatic first down and a 5-yard gain. But the man who has time and time again demonstrated his acrobatic prowess didn't settle.
"Peyton threw it out there and I just had the opportunity to go and get it," Sanders said.
He fully extended and snatched the ball, holding on through his crash to the turf for a 35-yard gain to the Dolphins' 23. Three plays later, the score was 21-17 with 12 seconds until halftime.
Sanders' nine catches for 135 yards could have been boosted significantly if not for some near-misses on deep balls from Manning in the second half, including two in a span of three plays where Sanders had beaten Dolphins corner Brent Grimes down the right sideline.
"He's a hard guy to overthrow so I take a little bit of pride in that," Manning said postgame with a little smile. "That means my arm must be hanging in there because it's late in the season.
"He has that deep threat, which is going to allow some of the shorter stuff and the crossing routes to be open."
Sanders has proved to be a dynamic part of a reshaped 2014 offense, making his immediate bounce back from injury a good sign for the future.
STEPPING UP IN THOMAS' ABSENCE
While Sanders was able to make his return, Julius Thomas was unable to go after suffering a sprained ankle early against the Rams in Week 11. Despite sitting out basically two full games now, Thomas still leads the team in scoring with 72 points (12 touchdowns) on the season. But the Broncos' offense was able to operate without him against a tough Dolphins' defense Sunday.
A big part of that was the varied use of tight ends as his replacement. First off was the play of Virgil Green, who played 54 snaps (36 of which were running plays) after missing the last three games with a calf injury. Manning said Green's return to the offense "was significant and allowed us to do some things that we haven't been able to do in the running game."
"I thought Virgil just blocked his tail off the entire game," Manning said.
Head Coach John Fox added on Monday: "(Green) doesn't show up in a lot of stats as far as catches, yards and all that stuff, but it was good to have him back. I mean he's a big part of that blocking element."
Jacob Tamme earned some snaps (23) in Thomas' stead as well, catching a 5-yard touchdown that was called back due to a questionable offensive pass interference call, and Paul Cornick played a big role too. The Broncos' sixth offensive lineman picked up 18 snaps as a tight end, 14 of which were runs, and provided extra punch in the team's best performance on the ground this season.
The team will no doubt be happy to get its matchup-nightmare at tight end back and healthy moving forward, but the game plan that was used to replace him proved effective with these versatile pieces. Now that Green is healthy, Thomas' return will offer more coaches a stronger blocking presence in two-TE sets along with the dynamic pass-catching ability Thomas provides.
THE STRANGE BOUNCE OF THE BALL
The outcome of fumbles in Broncos games this season has been bizarre, to say the least.
On offense and special teams, the Broncos have now fumbled 11 times in 11 games and lost just two, including one on Sunday in the third quarter. But on defense, the fortune has been the opposite, with only two defensive recoveries of 13 forced fumbles, including three forced against the Dolphins on the same drive, which ultimately ended in a Miami touchdown.
Two of those fumbles happened near the sideline and went out of bounds without much hope for recovery, while the third was a product of multiple defenders prying at the ball, but a lone Dolphin trailing the play was able to pounce after it came free.
Things continued bouncing the wrong way for takeaways on defense. Chris Harris Jr. just missed snagging an interception in the flat that surely would have gone for a touchdown just a play after the Broncos turned the ball over on a punt. Two plays later, Von Miller grabbed a batted pass, only to fumble and lose the ball, with a defensive penalty deeming the whole play irrelevant anyway.
When Denver's D finally broke through with an interception in the fourth quarter — a pass that nicked Terrance Knighton's shoulder pad at the line and Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry's hands with Harris in tight coverage — it felt like good karma starting to flow back toward the Broncos. Knighton hopes that the disturbing trend of bad luck, which quietly extends back to 2012 and 2013 with respect to fumbles, will swing the other way when games turn into must-wins in the postseason.
"I mean all season, we've been attacking the ball, the ball just hasn't been rolling our way," Knighton said. "But it's good that we have the mentality to attack the ball. Eventually, maybe in the playoffs or something like that, the ball will start rolling our way, but until then, we're just going to keep focusing on the fundamentals and keep attacking the ball and hoping things roll our way."
Fox spoke similarly on Monday.
"We are still waiting for the ball to bounce right," he said. "We had one against St. Louis where it was a really good play by DeMarcus Ware, a tomahawk sack-fumble, and it kind of laid right in their lap. So you just keep stressing it and our guys are working on it hard. Someday, hopefully soon, it'll hop in our hands."