DENVER --A 1-2 start to the 2012 season isn't what the Broncos had in mind, but their performance in the fourth quarter so far has been a strength that the team would like to keep moving forward.
In three games, Denver has outscored its opponent in the fourth by a total of 39 points. On Sunday against the Texans, a pair of fourth-quarter passes and a defensive shutout in the final period gave the Broncos a chance for the potential winning score on their final possession.
"We finish," said wide receiver Eric Decker, who led all players with eight catches for a career-high 136 yards. "(Head) Coach (John) Fox, through OTAs, minicamps and training camp – our motto is to finish. It's a 60-minute battle and unfortunately we didn't start the battle fast enough. You can end (well), but it doesn't mean you're going to win all the time because you're playing catch-up."
While the team has showed poise and toughness in the face of 20-point fourth-quarter deficits in its last two games, the end result is all that matters in the long run.
"There are no moral victories here," defensive end Derek Wolfe said. "Obviously, we'll be in any game, whatever it is. It doesn't matter how many points we're down, we'll be in the game. The point is, we get it so that we're the ones ahead, so we can tee off on offenses instead of just waiting, trying to make plays and trying to make something miraculous happen so we can win a game."
Wolfe was part of a defense that pitched its second straight fourth-quarter shutout. Its production in the end of the game can be partially credited to a dramatic improvement in stopping the Texans' rushing attack.
In the first half, the defense allowed Houston to run for 92 yards on 14 attempts, an average of 6.6 yards a carry. In the second half, it tightened up in the front seven and limited Arian Foster and company to 60 yards on 20 carries.
"We knew what we were going to get," Wolfe said. "You get a feel for where the back wants to cut, so it definitely felt better in the second half."
BATTLING THE BEST
The Broncos have faced three playoff teams from 2011 in the first three weeks of the 2012 season.
Through three weeks of play, there are three NFL teams remaining with undefeated records. Denver has played two of them – the Falcons and Texans – in the last two weeks, and lost by six points to each.
"That's a team that's going to win a lot of ball games," Decker said of the Texans. "They're playoff contenders. We played a great team and you have to give them credit, too. They made the plays and stopped us. If you want to be successful and have a chance at a run for a championship, you have to beat times like this. We have to get better."
While two of the better opponents the Broncos will face are behind them, the players don't expect any easy victories from here on out.
"Everybody in the NFL is good," safety Rahim Moore said. "If you have a jersey on and you're out there on that field, everybody is good. So, we can't say, 'Well, these are the best two teams, well we should have lost.' No. We are just trying to win here."
A FAMILIAR CONNECTION
Sparking the Broncos' fourth-quarter rally was a 38-yard touchdown pass from Peyton Manning to wide receiver Brandon Stokley.
The play brought Denver to within 13 points with 9:49 left in the game.
It was the 19th time the pair have hooked up for a touchdown in their careers, and the first time since 2006, which was the last year the duo were teammates. The two played together in Indianapolis for four seasons, beginning in 2003.
"Stokley's touchdown definitely got us a little juice going," Manning recalled. "We hadn't scored a touchdown all game, having the field goals and the safety, so that was a good play (with) good coverage by (cornerback Brice McCain). Stokley went and made a good play on that ball and got us into a little bit of a rhythm there and got us another touchdown after that. I think that play kind of got things started for us in the fourth quarter."
Stokley finished the game with six catches for 73 yards, both second on the team. The touchdown catch was his 12th as a Bronco, the 35th of his career and his first since 2009, which was his last season with Denver.