Dog Fight In the Dog Pound – Robert Volpe

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Broncos fight to the finish to beat the Cleveland Browns last Sunday, in overtime 26-23, and their fourth road win of the season.

I’ve been saying all season, “Peyton Manning is inconsistent.” On Sunday the only consistency was Manning’s inconsistency. With three interceptions on Sunday, bringing his total to 10 for the year, I was hoping Manning was going to just give up and go sit down. But that is not his style. He’s a fighter and he won’t go quietly into the night.

The Broncos have yet to score any offensive points in the first quarter this season, and they continued that dubious tradition on Sunday. Last year they lead the league in scoring on first possession. This year, somehow, someway they just seem to hang on, like a drowning man hangs on to anything he can get his hands on that floats.

Looking at the game stats after the last two games, you would think the offense was doing a pretty good job. They racked up a respectable number of passing yards and even ran the ball better than the first three games. But in the column where the points are listed things didn’t add up. Why? Red Zone efficiency. That’s why? Last week AND this week the Broncos had three trips to the Red Zone and came away with zero touchdowns. Add to that 4 of 18 third down efficiency and boom goes the dynamite.

Nine minutes into the fourth quarter the Broncos had the ball on their own 34 yard line. It was second and 11. Manning was in the shotgun. His pass intended for Ronnie Hillman was off target behind Hillman and wound up in Brown’s linebacker Karlos Dansby’s arms. Pick six to give the Browns the lead. This was Peyton’s 4th pick six this season. On the following possession Manning hit Emmanuel Sanders right in stride, like he was handing him a baby, for a 75 yard touchdown. Can you say inconsistent? That touchdown snapped a 27 drive streak without an offensive touchdown for the Broncos.

I’ve been harping on Manning’s inconsistency all year and it is a fact, but on Sunday some of the blame had to be laid at the feet of the Broncos star receivers. Sanders miscalculated a jump ball in the endzone and it fell incomplete. That would have been the Broncos first Red Zone touchdown in 5 trips and likely would have iced the game for Denver. Demaryius Thomas dropped a critical pass in the fourth quarter that would have put the Broncos in field goal range for Brandon McManus to end the game without the head ache and uncertainty of overtime.

The wildest play of the game came with 19 seconds left in regulation play. It was Bronco’s ball, third and ten from the Bronco 43. Manning from the shotgun hits Sanders on the Browns 19 for 38 yards. Sanders rolls over, gets up and jogs into the endzone. But wait. Was he down by contact? Did he step out of bounds? Was it a catch? After official review it was ruled an incomplete pass. You really had to see it to appreciate how crazy that was.
DEFENSE TO THE RESCUE
Tied at 23 the Broncos won the coin toss and elected to receive. Broncos start from their own 31. First and 10, incomplete pass. Second and 10, pass to Hillman for 3 yards. Third and 7, pass intended for Thomas intercepted by Barkevious Mingo. It looked like the Broncos luck had run out.

Cleveland takes over on the Denver 39. First and 10, rush by Turbin for minus 3 yards. Second and 13, McGowen sacked for an 8 yard loss by Malik Jackson. Third and 21, McGowen sacked for a 2 yard loss by Shaq Barrett and Anthony Smith. Fourth and 23, delay of game penalty on Browns. Fourth and 28 punt.

On the next possession Denver found the run game and drove down to the Cleveland 16 only passing the ball 3 times during the drive.

Brandon McManus finished it off with a 34 yard field goal.

It seems week after week I can’t say enough about how great this year’s Bronco defense is playing. They just keep on doing that thing they do and they do that thing they do so well.

On Sunday, Aquib Talib got his second pick six of the season.

Despite Demarcus Ware being out with a back injury, Shaq Barrett stepped up in his place and ran roughshod over the Brown’s offensive line. On one play Shaq hit, sacked and stripped the ball from quarterback Josh McGowen so hard there should have been an accident report filed with the State Police.

The defense continues to be the number one defense in the NFL. This week they chalked up 4 more sacks, 2 interceptions and 1 fumble recovery.
After the game Peyton Manning said, “We’re certainly not playing as well as we’d like, but we’re playing well enough to win. … Anytime you can get out of an AFC road [stadium] with a win, it’s a good thing. .. You don’t take it for granted.”
The fans don’t take it for granted either Peyton, but I think they are taking a lot of Xanax.