Sometimes, pressure on the quarterback isn't about immediate results, but wearing down a protection scheme until it breaks.
In Sunday's 39-36 win over the Dolphins, the Broncos generated pressure in the first half, but didn't get the sacks to go with it. DeMarcus Ware delivered a solid hit on Tannehill late in the second quarter after using a swim move to sprint past fill-in left tackle Jason Fox, but Tannehill's quick read of the play and fortitude under pressure from a four-man rush and a delayed rush from Lamin Barrow allowed him to deliver the football for an 18-yard gain. It was the type of play that Tannehill would not have made two years ago.
The Broncos threw some blitzes into their pressure, including five rushes from T.J. Ward during the game, but nothing finished off Tannehill. That continued into the third quarter, when the Broncos brought six pass rushers on the Dolphins' third pass play of their first second-half series. All were handled one-on-one, and the quarterback found Brandon Gibson for a 13-yard gain.
That was Tannehill's 12th consecutive completion -- and his last of that streak, as pressure finally broke down the pocket for a sack that was the beginning of the end of that Miami series.
Terrance Knighton finished off the play, but it was set up by Ware, who worked inside of Fox and forced Tannehill to his left. Knighton waited for Ware to flash in front of him and then closed, bringing down Tannehill before he could look downfield.
A play later, a Derek Wolfe stunt around Knighton ended the completion streak. Knighton drew two blockers, and Wolfe came around him and sprinted past Daryn Colledge, forcing Tannehill into a quick throw to the left flat that fell incomplete.
In spite of the pass rush, other miscues left the Broncos behind 28-17 with 2:11 left in the third quarter and in need of a spark from a kickoff-return unit that came into Week 12 averaging just 19.63 yards per runback.
With Omar Bolden working, they got it. Bolden a fielded relatively short, low kickoff from Caleb Sturgis at the goal line -- and took off. When he fielded the football, no Dolphin had made it to the 30-yard-line, and the Broncos had a numeric advantage to that side of the field -- five blockers up top and three immediately in front of Bolden, with seven members of the Dolphins' coverage team in position to pursue.
The best part of this return is the commitment to the outside lane and the blocking that sets it up just outside the numbers. Bolden's hole is seven yards wide by the time he reaches the 20-yard-line. The only Dolphin with a chance of limiting the damage is Brent Grimes, but Cody Latimer is in front to guide him out of the play, allowing Bolden to sprint to the 40-yard-line.
Bolden took the best route to maximize the play, and as a result, was able to give the offense the football in excellent field position, setting up a quick touchdown drive. It was also a redemptive moment for the special teams, which to that point had struggled with a 12-yard unnecessary-roughness penalty against Bolden, a missed field-goal attempt and Isaiah Burse's fumble on a third-quarter punt return.
After being part of building the deficit, the third phase made the play that provided the first spark for the 22-0 run that flipped the game.
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