ARLINGTON, Texas – Just for a moment, try to forget about how you will ponder the Broncos' 51-48 win over the Dallas Cowboys. When you play Monday morning, Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday evening quarterback. Instead, consider how you'll remember this game a year from now – or perhaps five or 10 years down the line, by which point the Peyton Manning era can be judged by history.
Will you remember how the Broncos gave up more yardage through the air than at any point in their history? Or surrendered more points than in any road regular-season game since 1963? Or more yards per play than any game they've played since 1968?
If you do, then you're the type of person who judges Tom Hanks by "Turner and Hooch" or U2 by "Pop."
This game will lead to some serious editing of the "opponents records" section of the Broncos' media guide. But Danny Trevathan's quick hands and reaction in coverage when a pass was thrown to Dallas tight end Gavin Escobar also assured that it would become one of the most scintillating wins in recent Broncos history.
Trevathan bailed out Denver and its battered defense. By the end of the game, it was playing without Robert Ayers, Chris Harris and Wesley Woodyard, who joined the injured Champ Bailey and the suspended Von Miller as spectators. Without Trevathan's lunge for the football, the defense and the day would have been defined by Dez Bryant getting behind Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for a 79-yard catch-and-run or Terrance Williams running a post route past Tony Carter for an 82-yard gain.
Instead, those plays, frustrating as they were, become nothing more than teachable moments and footnotes.
That's the power of one play. One redemptive moment. When the defense gathered with 2:39 remaining and the frantic game tied at 48-apiece, the belief and knowledge that one play would change everything provided a splash of a fuel to a unit whose tank appeared to have run dry at halftime.
Since intermission, the Cowboys had gained 287 yards – on just 18 plays. They'd sprinted to four touchdowns. They'd only faced two third downs. They'd joined the Broncos in the club of thoroughly dominant offenses.
But all that would be irrelevant if the defense could make one play.
The defense huddled with AT&T Stadium in raptures and emerged with one clear message.
"Everybody kept saying, 'Let's make a play,'" said safety Rahim Moore. "Let's dig deep -- and we did."
It was appropriate that Trevathan was the man of the moment, because just as he redeemed the defense, he did the same for himself, after enduring perhaps the roughest game of his career to date. As in previous games, much of his workload in pass defense involved covering a tight end. Unlike the previous four games, the Cowboys boasted a potential Hall of Famer at that position.
Jason Witten has made plenty of defenders more accomplished and experienced than Trevathan look lousy. You don't become one of the three most prolific pass-catching tight ends in NFL history without an abundance of skills and moves. His explosion off the snap is not the same as it was a decade ago, but his routes are more precise. And when the Cowboys began involving Witten in the offense, they did so at Trevathan's expense, beginning with the first possession, when Romo found Witten for a 14-yard gain.
"Just when you give him that slight bit of room – Tony room throws it right in there," Trevathan said. "You have to be on top of him all the time."
More often than not, Trevathan and the Broncos were beaten by Witten and his young protégé, the rookie Escobar. But all those receptions would be meaningless if he could make one play – and when Derek Wolfe pressured Romo, that moment arrived.
"Danny made a fantastic play. That's the reason why he's a baller and that's the reason why he's on this team – stuff like that," said Moore. "He's special and special players make special plays."
He's special enough to wipe clean the frustrations of an afternoon in which a buckling defense finally broke – but by virtue of one play, put the pieces back together just in time.
Monday, the defense will take stock of its performance. The coaches and players will review the film, and be appropriately critical. Analysts will dissect what went wrong.
But a year from now, no one will remember that. And Denver's defenders won't remember all that went wrong; they'll recall the one play they got right.