For the past eight weeks, humiliation has seemed to wait for the Denver Broncos around every corner. Prestigious teams like New England and Philadelphia have blown Denver out, but so have both the Dolphins and Giants.
But finally, after two winless months, the Broncos fought for an early lead and stomped the life out of their opponents. Denver beat the New York Jets 23-0 at Mile High Stadium, ending an eight-game losing streak.
The difference between the Broncos' performance on Sunday and how they've played for the past two months is execution. The offense took what the defense gave them and found a way to make a couple of big plays. The defense absolutely smothered the Jets, allowing exactly 100 total yards and forcing two turnovers. And most importantly, the Broncos' special teams didn't put the team in bad spots.
Over the past few weeks, Trevor Siemian has seemed scared of throwing deep balls. He consistently overthrew his receivers and didn't give them a chance to make a play. That changed Sunday.
With a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, Demaryius Thomas fought through tight enough coverage from Morris Claiborne to warrant a pass interference call and elevated in the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown reception. On the previous play, Emmanuel Sanders just about pulled in a 20-yard touchdown of his own.
Siemian finished the game with 20o yards on 19 of 31 passing and a touchdown. He was only sacked twice and didn't throw an interception. He seemed more poised in the pocket than in his past couple of starts, but that could due to a lack of pressure.
Demaryius Thomas had his best game of the season and passed Shannon Sharpe for second place on the Broncos' all-time receiving yards list. He led both teams with eight catches for 93 yards and a touchdown, and Vance Joseph gave Thomas the game ball. Nearly half of Siemian's passes were thrown his way.
The Broncos didn't establish much of a ground game, but C.J. Anderson managed 48 yards on 22 carries. Andy Janovich had one carry and was able to plunge into the end zone from one yard out for his first touchdown of the game.
Denver's defense dominated the Jets. Sure, that doesn't mean as much as if they had manhandled the Patriots or Steelers, but the No Fly Zone still sent a message on Sunday. The Broncos hadn't held a team to 100 yards or fewer since 2004.
Von Miller got his 10th sack of the season, making him the first Bronco to ever post six 10-sack seasons. He consistently generated pressure, as usual, and he made a few stops in the backfield, as well.
Midway through the second quarter, Darian Stewart undercut a deep ball intended for Robby Anderson. Aqib Talib was in tight man coverage on the right sideline and was able to box out Anderson enough for Stewart to pick off the pass.
Shelby Harris had another great game. He only made two tackles, but he sacked McCown on his first pass attempt of the game and just about pulled the ball out. He made another tackle in the backfield and swatted a pass at the line.
McCown was under constant pressure and missed a few plays in the second quarter with a back injury. He returned quickly but broke his hand in the third quarter.
Denver's special teams played one of their best games of the season, outside of a missed 29-yard field goal in the first quarter. Brandon McManus made his other three attempts, including a 53-yarder.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Brandon Marshall was everywhere on Sunday.
On Denver's first defensive snap of the game, Marshall chased down Jets' Elijah McGuire near the sideline for a two-yard loss. On the next drive, he forced a fumble that gave the Broncos' offense the ball in the red zone with a chance to build a two-score lead.
Marshall finished the day with seven tackles, three of them for a loss, to go with the aforementioned strip sack. He locked down the middle of the field and was a key part of the defensive effort the Jets' offense to just 59 rushing yards on 23 attempts.
PLAY OF THE GAME
The Broncos flew down the field on their first drive, before stalling in the red zone and settling for a 31-yard Brandon McManus field goal. Denver's defense backed up the offense by stuffing Jets' running backs at the line on New York's first two plays, setting up a 3rd-and-11 on New York's 24-yard line with a little under eight minutes left in the first quarter.
The Jets lined up with three receivers split out wide and no tight ends. Von Miller got pressure around the left edge, forcing running back Matt Forte to help the tackle. Inside linebacker, Brandon Marshall waited for Miller to open the hole before blitzing up the middle and pulling the ball out of Josh McCown's hands. Gotsis fell on it and the Broncos took over at the Jets' 20.
Two plays later, Denver took a 10-0 lead and never looked back.
QUOTE OF THE GAME
"We put it together as a team and we know how good we can be." - Aqib Talib
BY THE NUMBERS
100- Total yards gained by the Jets
+2- The Broncos' turnover margin Sunday, it was the second time this season they've had a positive turnover margin
1.6- Yards per pass attempt allowed by the No Fly Zone
The Broncos were officially eliminated from playoff contention Sunday morning, so, on paper, their win over the Jets only shifted Denver's draft picks down in the draft.
But there are real benefits to Sunday's win.
Denver doesn't want to go into the offseason tensions in the locker room, whether they're between the offense and the defense, the players and the coaches, or the veterans and the front office. Free agents aren't attracted to a toxic environment and part of the reason the Broncos' defensive dominance was the willingness of Derek Wolfe and Chris Harris Jr. to give John Elway a hometown discount.
@ Indianapolis Colts (3-10), 6:25 p.m. MST, Thursday, December 14; NBC