Playing in their second prime-time game of the season, the Broncos left a strong impression on a national audience. Denver traveled to one of the league's most hostile environments to take on the defending AFC East champions in Buffalo and matched up against Bills quarterback Josh Allen one game after foiling Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
The Broncos' "Monday Night Football" performance was reminiscent of their monumental Week 8 win over the Chiefs, from the defense's four takeaways to incredible plays in the passing game that helped topple an AFC power. Denver needed a 36-yard field goal by kicker Wil Lutz as time expired to seal its third-consecutive victory. Shortly after the memorable "MNF" showing, we're breaking down seven Broncos plays that made the difference in a game of razor-thin margins.
Cornerback Ja'Quan McMillian pries the ball loose on Bills' first play from scrimmage
Situation: Defending first-and-10 at the Buffalo 25, 15:00 remaining in the first quarter, tied at 0-0
Breakdown: Cornerback Ja'Quan McMillian has emerged as a breakout contributor during Denver's three-game winning streak — including intercepting Patrick Mahomes in the Broncos' Week 8 win — and he made his imprint on the Broncos' matchup against the Bills immediately. McMillian disengaged from a block from Bills wide receiver Trent Sherfield to go after Bills running back James Cook, who was looking for first-down yardage after securing a screen pass. The second-year corner used both hands to jar the football free from Cook's grasp, then pounced on top of the free ball for the Broncos' first takeaway. McMillian's big play gave Denver prime field position for an opening-drive field goal and proved the defense's opportunistic performance against the Chiefs was no fluke.
They Said It: "I think those guys got tired of me talking about [forcing fumbles]. Defensively, we were on the other end of it. That was the difference tonight. Four takeaways, you finish plus-three [in the turnover margin] and you're winning 98 percent of your games." — Head Coach Sean Payton
Safety Justin Simmons snags an interception off a deflection on Bills' second drive
Situation: Defending third-and-4 at the Denver 28, 8:30 remaining in the first quarter, Denver leading 3-0
Breakdown: Facing Mahomes and Allen in back-to-back games was an unenviable task for the Broncos' defense, but the secondary succeeded in throwing Allen off his game. Allen recorded his season lows in passer rating and ESPN QBR, while also throwing a pair of interceptions and losing a fumble on a missed handoff. Allen's first turnover came on the Bills' second drive with Buffalo just outside of the red zone. The two-time Pro Bowler's pass to Bills receiver Gabe Davis bounced off Davis' hands, and Justin Simmons set himself up perfectly downfield to track down the deflection for an interception. With the takeaway, Simmons secured his 30th interception since 2016, most in the NFL over that span, and recorded interceptions in back-to-back games. Though the Broncos couldn't capitalize on the turnover, the play epitomized the secondary's ability to find the football and make the most of the Bills' offensive miscues.
They Said It: "Defensively, we talked all week about, 'Don't look up and look at the score. … Just put your head down while we're out there [and] give it your all.' Obviously, we were able to get the takeaways, and guys were searching for the football today. … I'm proud of us and the way we battled and fought." — Simmons
Quarterback Russell Wilson and wide receiver Courtland Sutton score touchdown on season's most improbable completion
Situation: Fourth-and-2 at the Buffalo 7, 7:23 remaining in the second quarter, Denver leading 3-0
Breakdown: The most impressive and arguably most important play of the Broncos' season defied belief. The Broncos decided to attempt a fourth-down conversion in the red zone instead of a field goal from close range, but Buffalo defensive end Shaq Lawson looked past Russell Wilson's play-action fake and pursued Wilson as an unblocked blitzer. Wilson spun to create space and backpedaled all the way back to beyond the Bills' 20-yard line and lofted a pass to the left corner of the end zone without setting his feet. Wide receiver Courtland Sutton positioned himself at the left sideline and somehow secured possession while dragging two feet in-bounds, all before getting shoved out of bounds by Bills safety Taylor Rapp. The seven-yard touchdown reception was Sutton's seventh of the season — already his season-best mark — but made history as the most unlikely completion of the Next Gen Stats era at 3.2 percent. Though the Wilson-Sutton connection came in the second quarter, it proved to be one of the biggest plays of the game, allowing the Broncos to capitalize on their red-zone trip instead of a turnover on downs and extending Denver's lead to nine points instead of the 6-0 lead a made field goal would have provided.
They Said It: "If you had told me, 'All right, fourth-and-2, give me a play you like,' and we felt like we had one, and then you had told me, 'Freeze the film midway through that play,' I would have kicked a field goal. They played coverage. They played more of a two-deep shell to it. We were expecting a man-look. We wanted to be aggressive and we felt like we had a play we liked. That all being said, certainly they defended it well, then Russell and Courtland made a fabulous play." — Payton
Cornerback Fabian Moreau gets the Broncos' third takeaway of the half and sets up another Denver field goal
Situation: Defending first-and-10 at the Buffalo 25, 0:45 remaining in the second quarter, Denver leading 12-8
Breakdown: After the Bills cut the lead to 9-8 via an 81-yard touchdown drive and ensuing two-point conversion, Wilson led an impressive two-minute drill drive near the end of the first half that culminated in a 49-yard field goal by kicker Wil Lutz. But Denver wasn't done yet. Veteran cornerback Fabian Moreau, who the Broncos signed during training camp in August, showcased his athleticism by undercutting an Allen pass to wide receiver Deonte Harty and elevating for the catch. Moreau added on a 9-yard return that set up the Broncos in prime position for their second Lutz field goal in the span of a minute and sent Denver into halftime with a 15-8 lead. According to Next Gen Stats, Moreau's interception swung the Broncos' win probability by a significant margin of 13.9 percentage points, second-most among Denver's takeaways. In a game that was ultimately decided by two points, that unexpected field goal foiled Buffalo's attempt to gain momentum going into halftime and was a major factor in the final result.
They Said It: "It shows the amount of work we put in during the week and just how many guys have been stepping up for us. Obviously, Justin [and] his play. Fabian stepped up big time. Everybody else that solidified a win for us on the defensive side of the ball was stepping their game up. Obviously, I wish I could have had me [a takeaway], but it's very great when you see other guys around you making plays like that." — Cornerback Pat Surtain II
Running back Samaje Perine corrals Wilson's flip and picks up a key third-down conversion
Situation: Third-and-7 at the Buffalo 32, 9:33 remaining in the fourth quarter, tied at 15
Breakdown: Both offenses struggled to gain traction in the second half, and entering the fourth quarter the Broncos needed a spark with the score tied at 15. Facing third-and-7 on the edge of field-goal range in blustery conditions, Wilson evaded pressure in the pocket and flicked the ball toward his checkdown option, veteran running back Samaje Perine. The improvisation act proved to be genius, as Perine caught the pass and fought through contact to pick up a crucial third-down conversion. According to Next Gen Stats, Perine's catch-and-run flipped the win probability from Buffalo's favor to Denver's and accounted for a jump of 9.6 percentage points of win probability for the Broncos. The play was the second of three third-down conversions on the drive, including a 19-yard pass to Jerry Jeudy on third-and-10 earlier in the drive. The Broncos' drive culminated in Wilson's 3-yard touchdown throw to a different running back, Javonte Williams, but Perine wasn't done yet. Perine, the Broncos' third-leading receiver this season, added 18- and 9-yard receptions on Denver's game-winning drive to close out the game.
They Said It: "When we studied Samaje in Cincinnati, we saw him on the field a lot in third down, two-minute, so he's protection, but also chest-down, driven. He has a pretty good ability to catch it and advance it pretty quickly in some of those soft zones, and it happened last night to get the two-minute drive started. We've been in that situation, and you saw that on Cincinnati film. You saw him on third down — might have been third-and-6 — the coverage is soft in the zone, and the ball gets thrown underneath, and he's able to get the first down and get forward." — Payton
Wide receiver Jerry Jeudy draws a defensive pass interference penalty on Buffalo to move Broncos into field-goal range
Situation: Third-and-10 at the Buffalo 45, 0:35 remaining in the fourth quarter, Buffalo leading 22-21
Breakdown: With less than a minute remaining, the Bills overwhelmed the Broncos' offensive line with an all-out pressure and got just what they wanted: a momentum-halting sack of Wilson. Buffalo tried the same tactic on the following play, but Wilson reacted quickly and launched a high-arching ball in the direction of wide receiver Jerry Jeudy. Though the ball didn't take advantage of Jeudy's separation, Jeudy's efforts at working back toward the ball caused Bills cornerback Taron Johnson to commit defensive pass interference. Jeudy was involved in the offense throughout the game, including a 19-yard reception, but none of his plays had a great impact than his ability to draw a penalty on third-and-long. According to Next Gen Stats, the play added 31.8 percent to the Broncos' win probability and gave Denver an 86.7 percent chance of winning the game. The spot foul advanced the ball 28 yards and positioned the Broncos to run out the remaining time and attempt a last-second field goal attempt for the win.
They Said It: "I just told the guys, 'We have to be really sharp. We have to be really disciplined. Get as much as you can get, get out of bounds, get north, [a] field goal wins it.' … Jerry's play at the end, [I was] trying to give him a chance down the field and he went up and fought for it." — Wilson
Kicker Wil Lutz hits a game-winning 36-yard field goal as time expires to seal a thrilling victory
Situation: Fourth-and-11 at the Buffalo 18, 0:04 remaining in the fourth quarter, Buffalo leading 22-21
Breakdown: The Broncos' wins in 2023 have featured contributions from all three units, and while the special teams unit certainly made an impact on Denver's win over the Bills, its contributions teetered between heroic and catastrophic throughout the game. Lutz tied his career-high with four made field goals in the game and wide receiver Marvin Mims Jr. was electric in the return game, but an extra-point attempt that hit the upright and another attempt that was foiled by a fumbled snap took points off the board and looked like costly mistakes in the final minutes. Disaster nearly struck again when Lutz's 41-yard field goal veered far right and appeared to end the game with a Denver loss, but Buffalo's penalty for 12 men on the field gave Lutz a chance for redemption and his second game-winning kick of the season. Lutz's follow-up try as time expired was true, securing an unbelievable 24-22 victory for the Broncos and extending their win streak to three games.
They Said It: "A lot of adversity personally tonight, but short memory, one kick at a time. I'm proud of how we handled that as a unit. Obviously, there was stuff we're going to have to take away and work on during the week. Overall, it was tough conditions to kick in. I thought I hit the ball well, other than the extra point obviously. I can't be mad after a win." — Lutz