AFC West: Cowboys-Broncos 100409

Moving away from Week 4

October, 5, 2009
10/05/09
1:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


I’m traveling from Denver after covering the Broncos’ thrilling 17-10 win over Dallas on Sunday.

What a game. The Broncos proved both that they can hang with a strong team and that their defense is, indeed, strong. Denver has allowed an NFL low 26 points. San Francisco and Atlanta are tied for the next fewest points allowed in the league with 53. Yes, if Denver gave up double the points it has allowed, it would still lead the league. That’s nutty.

Now, Denver is rewarded with a date with the visiting Patriots on Sunday.

I will check in later Monday with news and analysis from around the AFC West.
Ron Chenoy/US Presswire
Denver cornerback Champ Bailey is leading a much improved Broncos defense.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


DENVER -- Champ Bailey was asked Sunday evening if he ever thought the new-look Denver Broncos' defense could possibly be this good when he headed to training camp in July.

Bailey carefully considered the question. Then, he smiled and slyly attempted to avoid it.

Week 4 Coverage
Walker: Mendenhall mends fences in victory
Mosley: Cowboys adjust expectations
Williamson: Putting the 'D' in Denver
Graham: Brady is back
Kuharsky: Garcon, Collie producing
Seifert: Bears build swagger
Sando: Rams looking for answers
Wojciechowski: Bears give Chicago a break
Reiss: Patriots-Ravens game a classic
Watkins: Cowboys offense sputters
Clayton: Colts running away with division
Pasquarelli: Embattled Zorn adjusts
• NFL Nation: Reactions | Wrap-ups | Live

• MNF: Packers, Favre can bury the hatchet
“I don’t know,” the usually quick-to-answer Bailey said after a long delay. “I’m not one for predictions.”

Yeah, Champ, we didn’t think it would be this good, either. But after the first quarter of the NFL season, his crew is one of the top stories in the league.

Facing the first test in a tough 10-game stretch, Denver’s defense belted the Dallas Cowboys around for the final three quarters and survived a broken play in the final moments to secure a 17-10 win. Denver is one of a quartet of 4-0 teams in the NFL. Minnesota is 3-0 and it plays Green Bay on Monday night.

Under offensive-minded coach Josh McDaniels, the Broncos are winning on the strength of a 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. His Broncos are physical and unrelenting. (In fact, the former San Francisco head coach could be working his way back into head-coaching consideration with this masterful job.) The Broncos have allowed an NFL-low 26 points this season. In the final three games of the 14-year Mike Shanahan head coaching era, Denver allowed 112 points.

Denver’s defense was so bad the past two seasons, it was often referred to as the "Enver Broncos" because there was no “D” in the city. Denver is back and that’s no joke.

The Broncos are stopping the run. That was a huge problem in recent years. Dallas had 74 yards rushing. Denver is rushing the passer with vengeance. Linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who converted from end this year, has eight sacks in four games. The Broncos have claimed 10 turnovers.

“I think [the change] is that we are so prepared and so confident,” Bailey said. “We’re ready for anything.”

That was evident in the final minute of the game.

After Dallas jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, Denver’s defense shut down the Cowboys. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo was pressured in the final three quarters and harassed into making one errant throw after another. Dallas couldn’t establish any ground-game rhythm.

Then there was the broken play. On fourth down and three from its own 27 with 1:16 to go and Denver leading 17-10, Romo shot out of pressure and hit Sam Hurd about 20 yards down field. Hurd bolted 53 yards down to the Denver 20.

Did the old, porous Denver defense resurface at the worst possible time?

“It was just one play,” Dumervil said. “We had to strap it back on and get after it. There was still 20 yards to go.”

Dallas couldn’t complete the journey.

In the final nine seconds of the game, from the Denver 2, Romo went after Bailey. Yes, Bailey. The Broncos cornerback beautifully defended two straight passes intended for Hurd in the end zone to win the game.

Bailey is rarely challenged. But Dallas went after him all game. Bailey made a difficult interception at the Denver 3 in the third quarter.

“That’s Champ Bailey, one of the best cornerbacks of all time,” Denver linebacker D.J. Williams said. “I don’t know why they would throw at him.”

Asked if he was shocked that the ball came his way on the final two plays, all Bailey said was, “I’m glad they did.”

So are the Denver faithful.

But Denver’s defense is more that just 10 scrubs and a Hall of Fame cornerback.

This is a cohesive group that is playing well on all three layers of the unit. The defensive front three, one of the most inexperienced groups in the league, is setting the tone in the run game. Linebackers Andra Davis, Williams, Mario Haggan and Dumervil are creating chaos. The secondary has been spectacular. New safety Brian Dawkins plays like he is 30, not nine days away from celebrating his 36th birthday.

“Everyone here holds each other accountable,” said right cornerback André Goodman."On that last drive, no one gave up. We just got stronger. That’s been the way we’ve done it all season.”

Offensively, Denver has been very timely. Case in point: Brandon Marshall ’s jaw-dropping 51-yard catch and run from Kyle Orton to give Denver the lead with 1:46 remaining. Orton has not thrown an interception all season and the Broncos’ offense is doing just enough to help its defensive mates.

In the past, it was the Denver defense that couldn’t help out the offense. But a lot has changed in Denver.

The “D” has come back to the city.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


DENVER -- It was a moment that appeared unlikely to happen.

Brandon Marshall and Josh McDaniels hugged in a wild sideline celebration Sunday.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Brandon Marshall's on-field exploits were the story on Sunday.

Didn’t see that one coming.

After all the drama of the summer, Marshall became a huge part of the Denver Broncos again with one catch.

With 1:46 remaining, he scored the game-winning touchdown to give the Broncos a 17-10 victory on a 51-yard catch-and-run. Marshall ran all over the field and he eluded several defenders.

Finally, it was about Marshall’s immense on-field ability and not his off-field missteps. It wasn’t about Marshall being arrested or asking for a trade or being suspended by the team.

It was about what he can give Denver as a big-time receiver.

“I’ve been waiting for that one for a long time,” Denver cornerback Champ Bailey. “That’s what Brandon Marshall does. He’s one of the best receivers in the game.”

Perhaps Sunday’s spectacular moment officially closes the door on the Marshall controversy in Denver.

His embrace with his coach was clearly a special moment. The two reconnected in a post-game press conference. To be fair, Marshall’s beef really was never about McDaniels. Unlike quarterback Jay Cutler, Marshall’s problem with the Broncos , not the coach.

“You never heard me say anything (bad) about him coaching or what he brings to the organization,” Marshall said Sunday. “Coach does a great job of preparing us and getting us in the right position and just getting our team going every day.”

McDaniels was just as complimentary.

“He’s just one of us, is what he is. I’m not going to comment on where he was, but he is one of us,” McDaniels said. “Our team loves him, we love him and I think he loves being a part of this team. He plays just as hard as they do every day at practice. We have a team and he is a big part of it.”

Marshall suggested Sunday that his issues with the club are, indeed, over.

“I feel good,” Marshall said. I think the guys in the locker room and just the people around the organization embraced me and have just been there for me.”

If Marshall continues to deliver the way he did Sunday, his behavior from this summer will soon be forgotten.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


DENVER -- Are the Denver Broncos for real?

Depends on how you define it.

Is Denver a legitimate Super Bowl contender? It may be too early to tell.

But it is now safe to say the Denver Broncos are more than a team that benefited from an easy early schedule.

They are a tough team. They look like they are ready to meet the meat of their schedule head on.

Denver just won a huge game against Dallas. The Broncos played brilliant defense and its offense was timely. They had that combination all season. Josh McDaniels definitely has something interesting going on in Denver. Will it last?

A lot of people didn’t think it would last after last week. But the Broncos showed Sunday they are not going away.

Marshall comes up big

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
7:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


Is Brandon Marshall happy to be a Denver Bronco?

Not sure, but the Broncos are sure happy to have him.

After being suspended by the team earlier in the year, Marshall just made a brilliant 51-yard touchdown to give Denver a 17-10 lead over Dallas with 1:46 to go.

It was Marshall’s biggest play of the year by far.

Tied game in Denver

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
7:03
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


DENVER – We have a great game here.

It’s 10-10 with less than five minutes to go.

It’s a defensive battle. Win or lose, Denver’s defense has showed it can play. Dallas has not moved the ball well since the first quarter. Let’s see what it can do with the game on the line.

Buckhalter hurt

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
6:34
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


DENVER -- Denver running back Correll Buckhalter went to the locker room with an ankle injury. He is questionable to return.

First-round pick Knowshon Moreno is playing now. Buckhalter had to be helped off the field, but he limped to the locker room on his own.

Buckhalter has had a good season. The Broncos love Moreno, but they love him in tandem with Buckhalter. The rookie is going to have to come up big if Denver has a chance to beat Dallas.

Moreno was just stopped on fourth-and-1 at the Dallas 30 on the final play of the third quarter. Denver used defensive lineman Darrell Reid as his lead blocker. Reid tripped and Moreno was blown up.

Halftime notes from Denver

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
5:53
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


DENVER – The Broncos are down 10-7 at the half.

They are pretty fortunate to be down by just three.

Dallas is controlling the game, but Denver defense is adjusting well.

Denver is getting good pressure on Dallas quarterback Tony Romo. Linebacker Elvis Dumervil has added his seventh sack of the season.

Romo, though, is very efficient. He has completed 14 of 18 passes for 134 yards. Dallas is not shying away from throwing at Denver star cornerback Champ Bailey.

Denver is trying to throw the ball more Sunday, but Kyle Orton has not connected the deep game. He throws a poor deep ball. Orton has completed 9 of 15 passes for 87 yards.

Denver running back Correll Buckhalter is continuing to show his explosiveness. He has a 23-yard reception.

Denver safety Brian Dawkins was a great signing. He is playing at a high level.

Denver trails early

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
5:05
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


DENVER – In the first three games of the season, Denver has trailed for a total of four-plus minutes.

Early in the second quarter, they are down 10-0 to visiting Dallas.

It’s time to see what the Broncos, 3-0 are made of. Today starts a critical stretch for Denver and this is some early adversity.

So far, Denver quarterback Kyle Orton has not looked sharp. He is holding the ball longer than he had in the first three games. He has not been accurate. Orton has to get going for Denver to be able to catch up.

Dallas is challenging Denver’s defense and excelling in the short passing game. They are having success in the screen game.

Pregame notes from Denver

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
3:48
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


DENVER -- We’re approaching game time and I wanted to catch up on some notes as kickoff awaits:

Running back Marion Barber is active for Dallas and is expected to play. He was dealing with a quad injury.

Denver guard Ben Hamilton is inactive with a hamstring injury. Russ Hochstein will play for him.

Rookie Denver nickel cornerback Alphonso Smith is active with an ankle injury.

It is a cool 53 degrees in Denver.

Early AFC West news and notes

October, 4, 2009
10/04/09
2:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


DENVER -- I’m just getting settled in the press box at Invesco Field at Mile High and wanted to catch up on some AFC West notes as I prepare for the Broncos-Cowboys game. By the way, it looks like there will be a large group of Dallas fans here.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen has an interesting story on linebacker Zach Thomas filing a grievance against Kansas City over his salary.

This is a rough ending to the short Thomas-Kansas City relationship. He was signed on Easter weekend to be a leader and help the Chiefs transition into a winner. A nasty divorce wasn’t the plan. This grievance could hurt the Chiefs in the eyes of players around the league. If a player as respected as Thomas had a problem with Kansas City, potential free agents could look at that as a deterrent to signing there down the road.

Fox Sports reported that the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Oakland coach Tom Cable could still face a suspension based on information from the Napa, Calif., police investigation. Oakland defensive assistant Randy Hanson has reportedly told police that Cable assaulted him and he suffered a broken jaw in the incident during training camp. Cable could face felony charges.

If the case proceeds, Cable could face a lengthy suspension.

Oakland receiver Javon Walker is a healthy scratch again for the Raiders. It’s starting to look like he’ll never make an impact for Oakland.

AFC West: Final Word

October, 2, 2009
10/02/09
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Sunday’s games:

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
The Raiders need defensive end Richard Seymour to break out this week against Houston.
Seymour needs to make an impact: The Oakland Raiders need a spark and the perfect player to give it is Richard Seymour. The Raiders traded a first-round pick in 2011 to New England to get Seymour because they wanted the potential hall of famer to bring the team to the next level. The defensive end looked like he’d be that player in the season opener when he had two sacks against San Diego. In the two games since, Seymour has been quiet. Yes, he’s been double teamed, but he hasn’t produced much. The only noise he made was when he pulled the hair of Denver tackle Ryan Clady. He was penalized 15 yards for it. The Raiders are slumping into Houston. They need their veteran star to bring new life.

Rivers needs to go deep: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is becoming one of the premier deep-ball passers in the NFL. His deep passes are a thing of beauty. They are text book. Rivers has arrived as an elite player and he does few things wrong. But he has mastered the long ball and used it to his advantage in each game this season. Expect him to fire away Sunday at Pittsburgh. The early-season MVP candidate will try to take advantage of the absence of Pittsburgh star safety Troy Polamalu and try to shred the Steelers with a deep pass or two.

Time for the Broncos to show they are for real: The Broncos are one of seven unbeaten teams in the NFL and are the early surprise. Not much was expected from Denver in the first year of the Josh McDaniels’ era. But the team has been menacing on defense and timely on offense. Still, there are skeptics. Denver has beat Cincinnati, Cleveland and Oakland. But the easy ride is over. Denver starts a 10-game stretch in which they play eight sure playoff contenders. The rough road begins Sunday at home against Dallas. If the Broncos can dispatch the Cowboys, they will start to get respect and be considered a true playoff contender. If Denver loses to the visiting Cowboys, they will be cast as a pretender.

Chiefs have to compete in second leg of NFC East tour: Chiefs coach Todd Haley was criticized after last week’s 20-point loss at Philadelphia. Haley started to run the ball more in the second half instead of passing the ball even though the Chiefs were down by more than two touchdowns. The Chiefs have to find a way to stay in the game this week against the visiting Giants. Just like against the Eagles, the Chiefs will be badly overmatched. But this team, which competed well in the first two games under Haley, has to find a way to compete as they play their second of four straight games against NFC East competition.

This is the time for Russell to shine: I spoke to KC Joyner, the Football Scientist, this week. Joyner, a number cruncher supreme, said he believes Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell could have a decent game against Houston. If not, Joyner surmised, Russell really may be on his way to becoming a bust. Joyner thinks Houston has one of the worst defensive backfields in the league based on his computing. Houston’s cornerbacks are allowing big plays at an alarming rate. It’s a perfect opportunity for Russell to break out. If not, Russell (who has a 39.8 passers’ rating this season) may never break out.

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