DENVER — This.
This is what it is supposed to look like.
The Vic Fangio effect. A dominant defense. A stifling unit that changes the complexity of the game through sacks and takeaways.
Broncos fans have been waiting for all of the above — and they saw it Sunday in a 16-0 win over the Tennessee Titans that pushed Denver to 2-4 ahead of a “Thursday Night Football” date with the Chiefs.
The encouraging news for Broncos fans? The unit isn’t satisfied.
“We can even be better than that,” defensive lineman Derek Wolfe said. “… A goose egg is great; the ultimate goal is to not let them score a point. But we gave up some random plays that we shouldn’t have gave up. We could’ve shut them down even more.”
What the Broncos were able to do was impressive enough.
They posted the 19th shutout in franchise history and only the third in the last 22 years. They recorded seven sacks, intercepted three passes, allowed just 204 total yards and forced the Titans to change quarterbacks. The defense has now gone nine quarters without allowing a touchdown, and the unit posted a seven-sack, three-interception game for the first time since 1984.
“It was impressive, like you said, at all three levels,” Fangio said. “Shutouts are hard to come by in this league. … They don’t come very often, and the only way to get one is to play good, sound defense, make a play occasionally when you’re in one-on-one situations because those are invariably going to come up. We made a few of those. We didn’t make them all, but guys were just resilient and had a good mindset.”
Considering the circumstances, the performance may look even better.
The Broncos were without three of their top four cornerbacks against the Titans, as Bryce Callahan and Duke Dawson Jr. were inactive with injuries and De’Vante Bausby was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week. The defense also remained without Bradley Chubb, who tore his ACL two weeks ago.
Fangio seemed pleased with the effort of a makeshift secondary that featured first-year cornerback Davontae Harris making his first start.
“Did they score?” Fangio said with a laugh. “They held up pretty well, but as you all are very well aware of, we have a different test coming here in a few days.”
Harris was aided by the three other starters in the secondary each snagging an interception. Chris Harris Jr. and Justin Simmons both picked off Marcus Mariota, and Kareem Jackson grabbed one against backup Ryan Tannehill. Mariota finished the game with a 9.5 quarterback rating.
Harris Jr., who played Sunday in front of former teammate and Hall of Famer Champ Bailey, said he planned to “put on a show” for Bailey and the dozens of other former players in attendance for the Broncos Top 100 celebration.
“I had in my mind to put on a show for those guys, especially Champ,” Harris Jr. said. “I think I had my 20th [career] interception, so I told him I’d get him that football.”
Harris Jr. indeed became the 12th player in franchise history to accomplish the feat, and he also forced a fumble early in the game.
As he said after the win, the defense is slowly turning potential into results.
“Coach Fangio had a hell of a game plan,” Harris said. “It was very strong from start to finish, and he prepared us well. We’ve just got to keep that up and keep that same preparation [from] the last two weeks. Keep taking it week to week, and it’s going to give us our chance to win every week.”
On this afternoon, though, the Broncos wanted more than the win. They wanted to preserve the rare shutout.
Jackson did just that, as he broke on a ball on fourth-and-11 and kept the Titans out of the end zone.
“We were very pumped,” Harris Jr. said. “We wanted a shutout. We were going for the shutout last weekend, but we unfortunately weren’t able to get that one. We were close though.
“We know defensively we’re getting better. We’re starting to click at the right time.”