Short-Handed Broncos Outlast Bengals, 24-22
In the shortened week of practice the Broncos, besieged by injuries to key players, prepared for Cincinnati with the philosophy “next man up.”
Denver played the game without starters Champ Bailey, Elvis Dumervil, Brandon Lloyd, DJ Williams and Knowshon Moreno. Shortly after the game began, the Broncos lost tight end Julius Thomas and wide receiver Eddie Royal to injury. So thin the Broncos became that even Tim Tebow was thrust into the lineup, at wide receiver no less, for a handful of plays.
Said Broncos middle linebacker Joe Mays after the game, “Next man up is best man up,” and that was certainly true for Denver on Sunday as several reserves made major impacts.
Denver receiver Eric Decker led the way for the Broncos as he finished the game with five receptions for 112 yards and two touchdowns. The second of Decker’s touchdowns – a 52 yard catch and run from Kyle Orton – was the decisive score of the game.
Weak-side linebacker Wesley Woodyard, filling in for DJ Williams who dislocated his elbow in the preseason, led the Broncos with 13 tackles and batted down a Dalton-to-Jermaine Gresham pass on the Bengal’s final series.
Willis McGahee got the lion’s share of work with Knowshon Moreno sidelined with a strained hamstring. McGahee did not make any big plays for Denver but was steady and consistent, finishing the game with 101 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. Fox said he expected a strong game from McGahee, citing the twenty-nine year old’s experience and calling him a “warrior.”
"It just shows the camaraderie of this team, the will of this team and the resilience of this team and I think that’s something that can win you a lot of ball games," Decker said when asked about the Broncos’ victory in the face of so many injuries to key players.
Orton (15/25, 195 yards, 2 TDs) said the victory was “one of the best wins I've ever been a part of … just to battle the way we did, to have a total team win."
The two teams finished the game relatively evenly matched in most statistical categories except for one – third downs.
Denver was able to convert five of their 12 third downs; not great by most measures but far better than Cincinnati’s one-for-11 mark. Bengals’ Head Coach Marvin Lewis summed up this point succinctly saying, “I thought the difference really came on 3rd down on both sides of the football"
Lewis lamented a handful of failures on third downs in the first half that he felt allowed Denver to build a lead and remain true to their game plan of running the ball to setup play-action passing.
Unlike in previous seasons and their week one loss to Oakland, Denver did a fine job slowing down Cedric Benson and the Cincinnati running game. Denver allowed Benson to gain only 59 yards on 16 rushing attempts and kept him out of the end zone.
Cincinnati, while struggling to run the football, put on an impressive show throwing it.
Making the Bengal’s aerial attack – which accumulated 310 net passing yards and two scores – all the more impressive was the fact that Dalton and Green are both rookies. Green demonstrated the skills that got him selected fourth overall in last April’s draft by leading all receivers with 10 receptions for 124 yards and a pair of scores.
Dalton, a second round pick out of Texan Christian, showed remarkable poise for a rookie. Down 17-3 with 10:57 remaining the third quarter, he led the Bengals on scoring drives on four consecutive possessions.
Datlon said he was pleased with his performance overall but added, “it didn't really matter what I did, we lost....I need to play better and we need to execute on 3rd down."
Late in the game Denver’s defense stiffened. Robert Ayers got into the backfield and disrupted Dalton as he attempted a pass on fourth down, newcomer Jonathan Wilhite got a sack and good coverage forced the rookie signal caller’s final two passes to fall incomplete.
Denver took possession and after an Orton kneel-down, both teams found themselves with a 1-1 record on the young 2011 season.
"When we had to at the end, two different stops inside of 3 minutes, we were able to pull it out," a pleased Fox said after the game.