DENVER -- Sunday's 45-21 Broncos win over Washington was a game that seemed to encapsulate the Broncos' season to date: filled with explosive offense, fits of inconsistency, a mental mistake here and there, and finally, evidence that when the Broncos find fifth gear, it takes them to a speed that perhaps no one can match.
After Denver fell behind 21-7, we saw how potent the Broncos can be when the Broncos can mash the accelerator and go wide open -- 38 unanswered points, five takeaways, and an offense that averaged 6.11 yards per play, almost twice as much as Washington's 3.33. The five minutes that preceded it were arguably the worst the Broncos have played since a stretch at Buffalo on Dec. 24, 2011; the rest of the game saw the Broncos tie a franchise record for second-half points (38) and break a club mark for fourth-quarter points (31).
Sunday's win was the embodiment of what Homer Simpson said he wanted to experience in life: "The dizzying highs, the terrifying lows, the creamy middles!" And on Sunday -- and throughout the season to date -- the Broncos ended with a gluttonous feast of points that rivaled any of corpulent Homer's trips to all-you-can-eat buffets.
And now, a look back at the three keys identified before the game:
1. PROTECT THE FOOTBALL.
This didn't matter as much, because the Broncos defense located the turnover touch that had been missing the previous five games, when they coaxed just five takeaways from their opponents -- a tally they matched in the fourth quarter Sunday.
But if you're looking for the cloud on an otherwise sunny day, look no further than the four turnovers -- including three interceptions. The giveaways came in nearly all fashions posible in the passing game: a deflected pass, a receiver losing his footing, a protection breakdown along the edges and, finally, outright thievery, when DeAngelo Hall snatched a pass out of Demaryius Thomas' grasp for a fourth-quarter pick.
"Well, it's disappointing, there's no question, because you feel like you put your defense in a tough spot," said quarterback Peyton Manning.
If the defense can be as explosive in future games as it was this Sunday, a few turnovers won't matter. But the Broncos can't rely on that, and cleaning up the giveaways will likely be a bye-week priority.
2. KEEP RGIII IN CHECK.
The message went up on Robert Griffin III's first run: you can try to escape, you can try to use the sideline as your best friend, but you're not going to make it that often. On that play, Von Miller sprinted after him and overtook him before he could make it to safety. It was a harbinger of things to come, as the Broncos hit Griffin 13 times on pass plays. When they didn't get to him, they forced him off-kilter; once they settled in, they were rarely left grasping, instead trying to chase him into spots that made it difficult for him to complete passes and find a rhythm.
Because Griffin couldn't extricate himself from the tightening clutches of Denver's pass rush, the big plays that made the Washington offense hum in the last two weeks weren't there. Washington had 13 gains of at least 20 yards in those games; they had just one Sunday -- and it wasn't even on a pass or a Griffin run, but an 27-yard Alfred Morris jaunt that kick-started Washington's only touchdown drive.
3. MAKE THE BIG SPECIAL-TEAMS PLAY:
This didn't work out as the Broncos hoped; the most notable return of the day belonged to Washington's Josh Morgan, who eluded four potential tacklers en route to a 34-yard return. But in the end, the best thing the Broncos had going for them was the threat of Trindon Holliday. That compelled Washington punter Sav Rocca to kick toward the sideline as often as possible. It worked well -- until the fourth quarter, when Rocca shanked a punt off the side of his foot with the game tied at 21.
The 15-yard punt gave the Broncos the football at the Washington 35; one play late, they took the lead for good on Knowshon Moreno's 35-yard touchdown on a screen pass. Still, it was a day to forget for the Broncos' special teams; which didn't make an explosive return and set up Washington's first touchdown with a too-many-men-on-the-field penalty on a field-goal play late in the first half.