So many times last regular season, the Broncos came out on top in close games. Nine times in 12 tries did Denver win one-score games in 2015. The team excelled in shaking off turnovers — particularly quarterback interceptions — letting its defense do the work, and, if we’re being honest, catching a couple breaks.
The Broncos followed that formula to a T against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday, and somehow, they survived an errant last-second field goal attempt to pull out a 21-20 win.
Denver turned the ball over three times deep in Carolna territory. It didn’t matter.
Quarterback Trevor Siemian, who can finally cross off throwing an NFL pass off his list, was responsible for two of them. He fired a screen pass too low that got tipped and picked on the first one. Then on the second, he threw off his back foot as pressure came and floated one that a Panthers corner snatched out of the air.
Siemian was less than stellar in his first start. That was probably to be expected from a seventh-round pick against a good defense. He completed 18 of 26 passes for 178 yards and scrambled for a couple first downs. All good and well. But he attempted virtually nothing down the field and turned it over when Denver should’ve put points on the board.
Running back C.J. Anderson kept the offense afloat. He reeled off 20 carries for 92 yards, caught four balls for 47 yards and scored twice. His 139 total yards accounted for an astonishing 45 percent of the Broncos’ total offense.
Defensively, Denver was its dominating self. There were some shaky moments in the first half, including three 12-men-on-the-field penalties. But the defense looked like it did in 2015 when the second half rolled around.
The Broncos limited Carolina to 4.9 yards per play. (For a little context, that would’ve ranked 29th in the NFL last year.) They battered Cam Newton, sacking him twice and hitting him several other times. Many of those hits were helmet-to-helmet, and frankly, looked like penalties that didn’t get called. It looked downright unfair, which didn’t go unnoticed:
Newton still put Carolina in a position to win. He guided them deep enough into Denver territory to where Panthers kicker Graham Gano got a 50-yarder. Gano sent the kick left, and the Broncos took one kneel-down to run out the clock.
If the Broncos are to return to the playoffs for the sixth time in a row, they’ll likely have to rely on the recipe they used Thursday: Gain the bulk of their yards on the ground, let the defense wreak havoc and get a little lucky.
There are some out there who believe that luck in close contests isn’t sustainable. As on ESPN writer pointed out, eight teams had a .750 winning percentage in one-score games in 2014. They combined for a 35-7-1 record. A year later, those same teams went 34-25.
There are others who believe success in close contests isn’t so much luck as it is grit, clutch performance, intangibles — whatever you’d like to call it.
I’ll leave that for you to decide. What I do know is the Broncos are 1-0 in one-score games this year and 1-0 on the season.