ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Coming off a 24-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs and the relaxation of its bye week, the Denver defense took the first available chance to prove that it was ready for the "Monday Night Football" spotlight.
On the first play from scrimmage, cornerback Ja'Quan McMillian ripped the ball out from the grasp of Bills running back James Cook and recovered the fumble. The takeaway set the tone for the Broncos' defensive performance, which featured three first-half takeaways for the second consecutive game. The Broncos finished with four takeaways during the evening and were plus-three in the turnover margin.
After the game, Head Coach Sean Payton revealed that he made forcing fumbles such a point of emphasis during the Broncos' practices that he thought Broncos players had reached their limit of hearing about the Bills' proficiencies at recording takeaways.
"I think those guys got tired of me talking about [forcing fumbles]," Payton said. "Defensively, we were on the other end of it. That was the difference tonight. Four takeaways, you finish plus-three [in the turnover margin] and you're winning 98 percent of your games."
In response to the last-second victory, Payton said NFL teams "win during the week." That was a theme that the Broncos' defensive stars echoed in their postgame comments, underscoring the importance of their desire to improve and attention to detail in the Centura Health Training Center practices that led up to their critical road victory on "Monday Night Football."
"Reflecting on last [game against the Chiefs], obviously that was a great win, but it was like, 'How can we stay consistent, how can we build from that win?'" cornerback Pat Surtain II said. "And obviously the odds [were] against us coming into Buffalo, which is a great team … but we managed to pull through and … fight through [adversity] and win a big game."
Safety Justin Simmons recorded one of the Broncos' four takeaways on a red-zone interception, which gave Denver a forced turnover on the Bills' first two drives. The interception off a deflection gave Simmons his third interception in the Broncos' past four games.
Simmons said searching for turnovers was one of the defense's keys heading into the game and praised the unit's resilience in prime time.
"Defensively, we talked all week about, 'Don't look up and look at the score. … Just put your head down while we're out there [and] give it your all,'" Simmons said. "Obviously, we were able to get the takeaways, and guys were searching for the football today. … I'm proud of us and the way we battled and fought."
Along with McMillian's forced fumble and Simmons' interception, Denver took over possession on an interception by cornerback Fabian Moreau that set up a Wil Lutz field goal at the end of the first half and a botched Buffalo handoff attempt that inside linebacker Alex Singleton recovered in the third quarter.
Most importantly, the Broncos kept Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen out of his element and out of the end zone for most of the game. Allen had three turnovers and recorded season-lows in passer rating and ESPN's QBR metric. Surtain said he wished he'd recorded a takeaway of his own, but his coverage of Bills receiver Stefon Diggs took another game-changing weapon out of the mix for Buffalo. Diggs, who has five 100-yard games this season, caught just three passes for 34 yards.
"It shows the amount of work we put in during the week and just how many guys have been stepping up for us," Surtain said. "Obviously, Justin [and] his play. Fabian stepped up big time. Everybody else that solidified a win for us on the defensive side of the ball was stepping their game up. Obviously, I wish I could have had me [a takeaway], but it's very great when you see other guys around you making plays like that."
With the last-second victory, the Broncos improved to 4-5 and extended their win streak to three games. And after a landmark win against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in Week 8, the Denver defense staved off complacency and showed that its abilities to generate chaos, find the ball and play winning football are among its key characteristics, rather than just one-week anomalies.
"It just feels so good to win, man," Simmons said. "I'm thinking about the adversity that we hit and how everyone kind of answered the bell. I'm just proud of this team."