DENVER — Twice, the Washington Football Team had a chance to tie Sunday's game late and send it to overtime.
And twice, the Broncos' defense shut them down.
Following Denver's go-ahead touchdown drive with 4:27 to play, the Broncos faced a similar situation to the one they saw a week ago in Cleveland.
In Week 7, Denver needed a stop to give its offense one more chance at a win. This week, the Broncos needed to hold Washington to seal a victory — and they wouldn't let this opportunity slip away.
"In this league, you've got to find ways to win the close ones," safety Justin Simmons said after the win. "Like I said, you can't talk about it. You just got to do it."
Washington moved the ball well, at first. In four plays, Washington pushed the ball from its own 25-yard line to the Denver 29-yard line with 3:30 still to play. From there, Denver's defense buckled in. Despite missing at least six starters — Mike Purcell, Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Alexander Johnson, Josey Jewell and Bryce Callahan — the Broncos made a pair of big plays to keep Washington out of the end zone.
On third-and-6 from the Denver 7-yard line, Malik Reed looped behind Washington's Taylor Heinicke and recorded his second strip-sack of the season. Washington recovered, but the Football Team faced fourth-and-19 from the Denver 20-yard line. Heinicke looked to the right corner of the end zone, but Simmons had a bead on the ball and picked it off.
The game, it seemed, was over.
A couple of weeks after Simmons spoke about the need for himself and the rest of the defense to make big-time plays, he made his biggest of the season.
Simmons and the defense, though, were not done.
The Broncos' offense trotted back onto the field with just 37 seconds to play, but the ensuing possession nearly gave Washington an undeserved trip to overtime. On first down, Javonte Williams rushed for one yard, and the ball popped out after he was down by contact. On the next play, The Broncos ran a bootleg pass, and Teddy Bridgewater threw an incomplete pass. Not much time came off the clock, and Washington wasn't forced to use its second timeout.
The disaster play came on the next snap, though, as Chase Young ripped the ball away from Melvin Gordon III and Washington recovered at the Denver 24-yard line.
"Before going out there I was like, 'OK, two hands on the ball,'" Gordon said. "'Two hands on the ball.' And then it opened up and I was like, 'OK, I've got to get the first down.' As soon as I opened up, he made a play on the ball. That's on me. I've been in the league long enough to know what to do. You just kind of get what you can and go down, punt the ball and seal the game."
Instead of a punt, the Washington Football Team regained the ball with 21 seconds, two timeouts and a chance to steal a victory.
"Whatever worst word you can use to describe it, you can use to describe it," Head Coach Vic Fangio said afterward. "We got a couple yards on the first run and luckily we were down, the ball came out then. The offensive coaches all thought the boot play had a chance to work on the second one to get the first down, because they had all their three timeouts. If we didn't get a first, we were going to have to punt. And obviously it didn't. You'd like for Teddy, if it's not clean, to run with it and keep the clock going. And obviously the fumble on the third down.
"It was awful. It was a terrible, terrible series of downs for us."
The defense, which had just celebrated a presumed game-winning stop, had to retake the field. And when they did, they didn't let the mistake result in a Washington score.
"Obviously the frustration and surprise or shock, whatever word you want to use that you all were feeling, imagine what they were feeling," Fangio said. "They had to go out there and play. But I was impressed. They got it done."
On first-and-10, cornerback Pat Surtain II nearly added another interception — which would've been Denver's third of the game — to seal the victory. On second down, Reed led a swarm of Broncos into the backfield, where he took down Heinecke to set up third-and-16 from the Denver 30-yard line.
Heinicke's third-down pass was incomplete along the right sideline, which set up one final play. On fourth-and-16, Heinicke's pass to the end zone was far off target, and the clock expired to give Denver a win.
"The defense had my back, though," Gordon said. "So hats off to those guys."
Despite the odd circumstance, though, defensive end Shelby Harris said the team's attitude did not change. Harris, who finished with half of a sack, five tackles and two quarterback hits, said the team's focus was simply to make a play.
"At the end of the day, it's the same mentality you have on that drive right before when we got that interception: Stop them," Harris said. "Get off the field. Things happen, but a great defense figures it out. That was the message we kept harping: A great defense is going to figure this out. A great defense, no matter what's thrown at them, they're going to overcome adversity. And that's what we did today."
And, perhaps, the Broncos showed what type of defense they can be in the process.
"We really can do whatever we put our minds to," Harris said, "but it needs to be 11 collective minds with the same goal."