How many times can a terrifying defense bail out a toothless offense?
Enough to win a Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos found out last year. Apparently, it’s also enough to start the season afterward 6-2 — a record good enough to keep Denver tied for first in the best division in football, the AFC West.
The Broncos beat the San Diego Chargers 27-19 on Sunday using roughly the same formula they have the last season and a half. Denver’s defense harasses the opposing quarterback and creates turnovers. Denver’s offense keeps the game close with ineptitude in some form or another. And the Broncos come away with a closer-than-it-should-have-been win.
Against San Diego, the Broncos forced three turnovers, scored a touchdown, set up several other golden scoring opportunities for the offense, sacked Philip Rivers four times, hit him 13 times and limited a good Chargers’ offense to 4.8 yards per play. This came without two of the defense’s best players as well, cornerback Aqib Talib and linebacker Brandon Marshall.
Bradley Roby did his best Talib impression when he picked off a tipped pass and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown.
(Quick aside: This was the same play Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was hurt. A Chargers’ player appeared to accidentally hit Phillips, who was standing on the sideline, during Roby’s return. Phillips left the game on a stretcher and went to the hospital.)
In the third quarter, Broncos safety Darian Stewart also grabbed a tipped pass out of the air that set up the Denver offense with a first-and-goal. Denver rookie running back Devontae Booker turned possession right back over to San Diego when he fumbled and lost the football while stretching for the end zone.
It was gaffes like these that kept the Chargers in the game. Denver had an opportunity to put the game away when its defense forced a turnover on downs on its own 2-yard line.
The Broncos offense took over with 2:40 remaining in the game and promptly burned a grand total of 28 seconds of clock on three plays before having to punt. Denver punter Riley Dixon booted a 68 yarder out of the shadow of his own end zone that helped the Broncos avoid disaster.
In the end, Denver came away with another win. It couldn’t run the ball, with only 57 yards on 25 carries. Quarterback Trevor Siemian (20 of 38, 276 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT) continued to underwhelm. And yet it was another “W”.
ESPN’s Seth Wickersham perhaps summed it up best after the game with this:
“And yet ….” is right.