ARLINGTON, Texas — The Broncos have believed for weeks that they could beat a team like the Cowboys.
With a top-end secondary, a dynamic running game and a veteran quarterback, the Broncos had faith they could compete against the NFL's best.
This was a team with playoff aspirations and hopes that they could be different than the previous five iterations of the Broncos.
And for the last several weeks, they had to keep that belief despite a lack of results.
The Broncos spent the first eight weeks of the season taking care of business against teams like the Giants, Jaguars and Jets, but they lost four consecutive games against teams in the playoff hunt.
On Sunday afternoon, in a 30-16 win over the previously one-loss Cowboys, things were different.
"How 'bout them Broncos?" asked Head Coach Vic Fangio as he entered his postgame press conference.
Those Broncos didn't just win their Week 9 game in Dallas; they dominated it. Denver turned in a stifling performance on defense — Dallas didn't score until there were less than five minutes to play — and Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III ran wild to the tune of 191 combined yards.
It was a performance that seemed more than unlikely after the Broncos struggled to churn out a win against the 2-6 Washington Football Team. And it was a performance that surprised no one within the Broncos' locker room.
"That's the standard," safety Justin Simmons said, "and that's what we expect out of each other."
As the Broncos suffered four consecutive losses in October, there was mounting criticism and doubt outside of UCHealth Training Center. The Broncos never wavered — and with Sunday's win over the NFC East leaders, they showed what they can be at their best.
"Honestly, our mindset never changed even when we lost those four games," Teddy Bridgewater said. "It was like, 'Hey, we just got to find a way.' It was, Find a way to end this losing streak,' and now it's still, 'Find a way — find a way to continue to win.' And that's just the mindset. There's no, 'Hey, man, we're on top of the world.' OK, we beat a great team, but at the same time, we'll watch this tape tomorrow and we'll think, 'OK, we could've did this better, we could've did that better.' And that's the thing about this game: It can humble you. As long as we stay humble as a team, we can really do some things to move in the right direction. The moment you get too high, sometimes that rug gets snatched from underneath you and you fall flat on your face, and we don't want to experience that again."
Should the Broncos play the sort of complementary football they played in Dallas, there's hardly a limit on what they can accomplish. The 3-6 Eagles head to Denver in Week 10, and then the Broncos have a slate of five division games in their seven remaining contests after the bye week. The Broncos would've remained in the wild-card race even with a loss in Dallas, but a win is an unexpected victory and should put the team back on pace to perhaps reach the 10-win mark.
That's not where the Broncos' goals could end, though. Through nine weeks, the Broncos sit just half a game back in a clustered AFC West, where the Chargers and Raiders are 5-3 and the Broncos and Chiefs are 5-4.
"We know what we're capable of, but we haven't seen it all put together," Tim Patrick said. "Just to see a complete team win like that, it just gets you excited. Now we've finally seen it, now we've got to stick to the plan and keep doing it week in and week out."
And as they keep to their plan — one they didn't abandon as the losses mounted and their star pass-rusher departed for the Rams — they have a clear indication that it can work. The template is far from revolutionary, but with a strong run game, solid quarterback play and an opportunistic defense, Denver can continue to earn wins.
They've already shown an ability to do that, as the team's 5-4 record is the Broncos' best mark since 2016. But the win over the Cowboys was to a different degree. The Broncos had just two wins over playoff teams in the last two seasons, and they hadn't beaten a team with one or fewer losses this late in the season since wins over the 17-1 Panthers and 10-0 Patriots during the 2015 season.
This win can do more than keep the Broncos over .500 on the season. It can give a locker room, one that already believed, even more faith.
"I've always said doing something and accomplishing something gives you confidence and belief," Fangio said. You don't need to go sit on some psychologist's couch and get it. … You've got to do it on the field between the white lines. You've got to do it with your actions, not with your words, and we did that today."