BRONCOS

The win that showed that things have truly changed for the Broncos

Nov 14, 2023, 12:16 AM

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — This is what it looks like when a team learns how to win.

It scratches. It resourcefully conceals its foundational deficiencies with every last smidgen of of paint, spackle, polish and spit that it can find.

It’s Russell Wilson busting off a shovel pass to Samaje Perine under duress.

It’s that same quarterback, facing third-and-long and a foe that just brought the house on an all-out blitz, using the inexperience of an opposing secondary against it with a heave designed with two ways to succeed — a completion or a drawn pass-interference penalty.

It’s an offense overcoming false-start penalties. A team working past two botched extra-point attempts. A defense forcing four turnovers — one game after it, along with the special teams, combined four five takeaways.

It’s slowing down the game in the fourth quarter to bleed clock and give a gasping defense buckling and breaking after the loss of starting safety P.J. Locke a chance to recapture its wind.

It’s Wilson, in the huddle with 1:55 left, exuding confidence as the fury of most of the 70,318 in the stands on a blustery night bears down upon him.

And, finally, it’s taking advantage of when your foe wobbles — as in committing a too-many-players-on-the-field penalty to wipe out a Wil Lutz last-second field-goal attempt that sailed wide right.

“That’s how you win football games in this league,” right tackle Mike McGlinchey said after a 24-22, walk-off win over the Buffalo Bills that was the most thrilling triumph for the team since at least the middle of the 2016 season, and perhaps since Super Bowl 50 itself.

IMPERFECT DENVER WAS PERFECT ENOUGH WHEN IT MATTERED

“We weren’t perfect tonight. But we played complete team football,” McGlinchey said.

Or, more accurately, complementary football. Although it didn’t seem that way for a while — specifically when four drives that began in Buffalo territory resulted in just six points on a pair of field goals.

But at the end, when the resurgent Bills attack shedded its giveaway proclivity and sliced through the Broncos defense for the touchdown that gave them a 22-21 lead with 1:55 remaining, it was Denver’s offense, which only infrequently moved the ball with any consistency, finally slicing its way downfield with some quick thinking by Wilson in the form of pocket climbing and a key scramble — and finally, the deep attempt to Jeudy on third-and-10 from the Buffalo 45-yard line that resulted in a pass-interference call.

The numbers weren’t the key manifestation of the Broncos’ work — although four takeaways and a massive time-of-possession advantage were certainly relevant.

But most of all, it was about belief.

“It’s a fun thing to do when you start seeing the look on people’s faces and you start believing and you start feeling the energy on a Wednesday, on a Thursday, on a Friday, of the swagger and the confidence that builds on a Monday night,” McGlinchey said.

They believe they can win.

But belief isn’t anything without the road map.

HOW THE BRONCOS LEARNED HOW TO WIN

So, where does “knowing how to win” come from?

It comes from experience. There is a maxim: since time immemorial in the NFL, where games between tightly-compressed teams are decided at the margins: You must learn how not to lose before you learn how to win.

Early in the season, when the Broncos blew halftime leads against Las Vegas and Washington, when one thread seemed to unravel their hopes, the Broncos looked like a team that didn’t understand how to win.

Two months later, they sit on a three-game winning streak — including two games sealed on fourth-quarter, game-winning field-goal drives. In both cases, they overcame an opponent’s rally to take a late lead.

This validates everything Sean Payton has done.

“I think it all comes down to coaching at the end of the day,” running back Javonte Williams said. “I think that’s what the NFL comes down to — coaching, and Coach Payton put us in the right positions.”

And indeed, one of situations he drilled came to fruition — the end-of-half, dash-onto-the-field drill to attempt a field goal as time expired. The Broncos ended both halves with that — although its path to success in the fourth quarter was indeed awkward.

“It’s just kind of going through those situations throughout the week,” said Lutz, who has been around Payton for all but one year of his professional-football life. “You know, very good situational football.”

That’s how you win games at the margins that you lost for years. And for veteran Broncos, this is something different.

“I freaked out,” safety Justin Simmons said.

“… It just feels so good to win, man. I’m just sitting here thinking about the adversity that we hit and how everyone kind of answered the bell there. Just proud of this team.”

The Oct. 29 win over Kansas City is the one many Broncos fans will remember.

But the Monday night triumph against Buffalo — that is the night everything truly changed for the Broncos.

“Winning is a learned skill,” McGlinchey said. “And we’re starting to learn how to do it.”

Earlier this season, the Broncos found ways to lose.

On a gusty Monday night, they showed that they know how to win.

“This is a special win,” McGlinchey said. “We’ve had two really special wins in a row.

“And — watch out for the Denver Broncos.”

Watch out, indeed. Because this once-beleaguered franchise has found something it lost: a road map to winning.

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