NEW ORLEANS --At this point, you ought to expect it.
When everything appears to be going askew, when the season appears on the brink of disaster, when the path to victory appears narrow and closing fast, these Broncos find a way.
They've done it with Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler and now Trevor Siemian at the controls. They've done it at full strength on defense; they did it without multiple starters, including the three out Sunday: Derek Wolfe, Aqib Talib and Vance Walker.
On the road or at home, against pedestrian quarterbacks and future Hall of Famers, with takeaways and precision, with stars shining bright and backups seizing the spotlight. The method and means change; the result is the same.
But Sunday afternoon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome represented a new way to emerge victorious: Justin Simmons' leap over the long snapper to block Wil Lutz's game-winning extra-point attempt, allowing Will Parks to scoop up the football and return it 84 yards for two points that won the game, 25-23.
Two years ago, that play wouldn't have been possible; the ball would have been dead after the Broncos gained possession. But a 2015 rule change allowed Parks to keep going ... and going ... all the way up the left sideline.In barely 10 seconds, Drew Brees' answered prayer to Brandin Cooks in double coverage was wiped out, replaced by joyous shrieks from the few thousand Broncos fans in attendance -- and silent disbelief from the Saints and their fans. It was a sound that anyone who was at the Broncos' 31-24 win over the Chiefs last year would recognize.
It was a lucky break -- except it wasn't. Not if you believe luck is when preparation meets opportunity. And through several hours of film study each week focused entirely on special teams, coordinator Joe DeCamillis was prepared.
He saw an opening. It was a window that would open and close in the snap of two fingers -- about the time it takes for New Orleans long snapper Justin Drescher to snap the football and rise into position to block an oncoming rusher.
Simmons was a track-and-field standout in high school. He worked in the long jump and high jump. If he could time his rush perfectly with the snap, he knew he could be over Drescher and into the backfield before you could say, "Who dat?"
"It took me a few tries to actually time it up and make sure I cleared him," Simmons said. "[It took] all week, from Wednesday all the way until game day."
"I knew he had hops. In practice, you can see him catch picks during scout[-team work], he's about 42 inches in the air," added Parks. "But this time he jumped about 45 inches to get the block."
Simmons' leap wasn't an everyday call, and even though it was a point of emphasis in practice this week, it was only designed to be used in the highest-leverage situation.
"I kind of knew it was coming," Parks said. "As soon as I heard, 'Leaper,' I knew I'd get back and watch the ball."
Enter Parks, Simmons' training-camp roommate and fellow member of the Broncos' 2016 draft class. The two shared a locker Sunday inside the cramped visitors dressing room at the Superdome. They studied the playbook together. They quizzed each other deep into the night, each trying to help the other learn the intricacies of the scheme.
Sunday, they shared perhaps the biggest play of the Broncos' season to date -- one that stood after instant replay offered no conclusive angle that would have showed Parks' white shoe over the white sideline.
Simmons and Parks' big play was a triumph of preparation and effort. But the win itself was one about character, persistence and fight -- a point Head Coach Gary Kubiak made Saturday night.
"Sometimes I'll talk a long time, sometimes not very long. It was quick last night. It was about the fight: 'Hey, I want to see you fight. I want to see everybody battle for four quarters.' And I was kind of addressing them, 'When we have mistakes, we start slow.' I don't want to see, 'Here we go.' I want to see us fight through it. I want to see us battle.
"And I think that's basically what we did today."
And the fight wasn't done even if Simmons had failed to break though. The Broncos still had 82 seconds. As Simmons hurdled over Drescher toward Lutz, the offense retrenched. Trevor Siemian began warming up with Jordan Taylor, preparing to try and 40 or so yards it likely would have needed to put Brandon McManus within range of a game-winning field goal.
"I'm sitting there thinking about what we've got to do next with the possession," Kubiak said "I knew what Joe was doing, but I was talking on the headset, trying to think about where we go and try to get ourselves in field goal range."
"I was telling everybody to get ready," said wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. "Next thing you know, I saw 'Sim' jump over."
The offense was ready to provide the heroics. But it wasn't needed, not after Simmons and Parks showed another way in which these Broncos show that the only thing you can expect is for them to defy expectations.