ATLANTA – Despite coming out on the losing end against the Falcons, the Broncos managed to control the game along the line of scrimmage – both offensively and defensively.
Denver nearly doubled up the Falcons, who played with a lead for nearly the entire game, outrushing Atlanta 118 to 67.
Running back Willis McGahee topped the 100-yard rushing mark for the 31st time in his career, finishing with 113 yards on 22 carries.
"I thought our run defense was a little bit better," Head Coach John Fox said. "I thought we ran the ball pretty efficiently."
By sticking with the gameplan of establishing the run, the Broncos were able to stay in the game and give themselves a chance at the end.
McGahee scored two of the team's three touchdowns, including the final one that came on a fourth-and-2 carry.
"When you've got somebody like that, he can pound it up there in the middle, he can get outside and make people miss, or he can run people over," wide receiver Brandon Stokley said. "It's definitely a plus to have somebody like that in the backfield."
THOMAS' CATCH STARTS MOMENTUM
With the Falcons ahead 20-0 and just 14 seconds left on the first-half clock, the Broncos faced a third-and-goal from the Atlanta 17.
Quarterback Peyton Manning dropped back to pass and lofted the ball into the air.
Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas leaped and snagged the pass, while extending his lower body back to attempt to drag both feet inbounds.
Although he secured the ball cleanly, the official ruled that his feet came down out of bounds, making the pass incomplete. Matt Prater and the rest of the field goal team trotted on to the field to attempt a field goal to put Denver on the board.
But before the snap, the replay booth decided to take a closer look at the play. Since it occurred with less than two minutes to play in the half, the decision to review the call came from upstairs, not the Broncos' sideline.
Upon closer examination, the official reversed the call, ruling that Thomas did manage to tap both feet inbounds with control of the ball.
"I'm just glad I made the catch," Thomas said. "I feel like it gave us a little momentum to go into halftime. I think it was big. It was just a play that I had to make."
Playing in front of family and friends, not far from his hometown of Montrose, Ga., Thomas finished the game with a team-high eight catches for 78 yards.
After the touchdown catch, Thomas would go on to make key receptions on each of Denver's second-half scoring drives.
"The whole time, I was thinking, we still have a chance," he said. "When I got the touchdown before halftime, I felt like we got momentum and we would build off that and everything would be okay."
He was hoping for one last chance to make an impact play at the end of the game, but the Falcons managed to run out the clock as the Denver offense watched from the sideline.
In the end, Thomas knows that the offense had plenty of chances earlier in the game that it needed to capitalize on.
"We knew that the game wasn't over, by far," the third-year receiver said. "We still had a lot of time left. We came back and had some chances, we just didn't take advantage of them in the end."
While the Broncos were playing on Monday Night Football, the Houston Texans were at home watching.
Playing on Monday night means a shorter week to prepare for the upcoming game, so the Denver players aren't going to spend too much time dwelling on the loss, instead focusing on the future.
"Like it or not, this game is over," wide receiver Eric Decker said. "You have to learn from it and you have to move on and get ready. Now for us, it's Houston. As far as the will and the fight to the finish on this team, there are some positives offensively and defensively that we can build off."
The team will turn to the tape to see what it can improve on for next week's game against the defending AFC South Champions.
"We just want to get to the film and get the things you (messed) up on (fixed) and get on to Houston," defensive end Derek Wolfe said.
What they'll see on film from the Texans is a dangerous rushing attack led by Arian Foster.
That means the Broncos run defense will have to turn in a similar performance as it did against the Falcons as it held Michael Turner to just 2.5 yards per carry.
"They're running a tank with Foster," Woodyard said. "That's something we're looking forward to."
Denver plays its next two games at home, something that defensive end Elvis Dumervil is looking forward to.
"I'm sure our crowd will be there," Dumervil said. "We just have to get a good week of preparation and I'm sure we'll be able to turn it around."