TAMPA --Weather only delayed the inevitable.
Not even a one-hour, 26-minute lightning delay that hit at 6:54 p.m. EDT could derail the Broncos from a 27-7 win over the Bucs that pushed them to 4-0 for the third time in the last four seasons and the ninth time in team history.
The Broncos persevered through the loss of quarterback Trevor Siemian to a left shoulder injury late in the second quarter. Rookie Paxton Lynch entered late in the second quarter, and despite the change, the Broncos did not alter their attack, pushing the football downfield and trusting Lynch to run the full offense.
Lynch responded by going 14-of-24 for 170 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, posting a 94.1 rating for his afternoon of work. He guided the Broncos' three longest scoring drives of the day, and showed poise steeled by his work against the Broncos' first-team defense during the summer on the practice field.
"We need a little bit more tempo, we need to get out of the huddle better. Those are things a young kid struggles with, but I thought he handled himself well," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "I thought he made some big third downs for us. He can get the ball down the field, and I really liked the way he avoided some bad plays and threw the ball away. I though that was impressive."
The first-round pick's emergence was a dominant story, but how did the three keys impact the game?
- FORCE JAMEIS WINSTON INTO MISTAKES**
The Broncos wasted no time doing this, with Aqib Talib reading Winston perfectly as he dropped back to throw his first pass of the game and picking it off, returning it 25 yards to the Tampa Bay 11, from which Siemian hit Demaryius Thomas one play later for the game-opening score. Talib made it a perfect return to his former home by intercepting Winston again in the second quarter to set up C.J. Anderson's 1-yard touchdown run two plays later.
Winston spent much of the game under siege, and although he managed to escape several times -- including on his touchdown run -- he was eventually sacked five times for 36 yards in losses. The Bucs averaged just 3.6 yards per pass play, and dropped to 1-7 in games in which Winston has at least two turnovers.
2. STEADINESS AND BALANCE ON OFFENSE
Early in the game, All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was the center of an earthquake that stifled the Broncos' ground game, which stuffed C.J. Anderson on all three of his first-quarter carries, from which he gained just one yard.
So the Broncos mimicked their tactics of last week's win at Cincinnati. They went over the top with both Lynch and Siemian, and racked up 218 net passing yards, overcoming a furious Bucs pass rush that brought down Siemian three times and Lynch once.
Eventually, the Broncos got their ground game going, but the yardage was difficult. Anderson, Devontae Booker and Kapri Bibbs combined for 93 yards on 30 carries, none gaining more than 12 yards.
- THE HEAT: IF YOU DON'T MIND, IT WON'T MATTER**
The Bucs had the opportunity to use the conditions to their advantage, using conversions on three consecutive third downs -- including one that ended in Winston's 7-yard touchdown run -- to help build what eventually would be a nine-minute, 10-second advantage in time of possession by halftime. But the Broncos' turnover touch squelched this, and the Broncos ability to capitalize on their opportunities put them in front 17-7 at halftime.
In the second half, the roles reversed.
Having won the coin toss for the first time all season, the Broncos got the opening kickoff of the second half and provided what the defense needed most -- a grueling, time-consuming drive that effectively gave the defense nearly a full half-hour of rest, including the halftime break.
A third-down defensive holding penalty aided the Broncos' cause, but the final result was a 16-play, 69-yard drive that consumed seven minutes and 57 seconds. Energized by the rest, the defense turned in back-to-back three-and-outs, and Lynch led a nine-play, 80-yard drive to a 5-yard touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders that effectively ended the competitive phase of the game.