NFL Nation: Cowboys-Broncos 100409
|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.
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.|
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. 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.
|Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE|
|Quarterback Tony Romo and the Dallas offense had no answer for the Broncos defense Sunday night.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
DENVER -- If you looked at the schedule in April and chalked up Sunday as a win for the Cowboys, at least you have company. But this team took a 17-10 loss to the Broncos in stride, perhaps because no one in charge expected anything more.
Maybe it's time we forget about the immense potential that the '07 team displayed and realize that the current Cowboys were fortunate to even stay on the field with the 4-0 Broncos. That's right, Josh McDaniels has put his team in the playoff conversation the old-fashioned way: by alienating and then trading his bonus-baby quarterback for a bus-driver with a prominent neckbeard.
"There's a reason they're 4-0," Jones kept repeating as he sucked on an orange. "The Broncos are better than what anybody would have thought."
Jones didn't seem one bit surprised the Cowboys would surrender a fourth-quarter lead and lose to a team from the AFC West. Judging by his reaction, the Cowboys would've uncorked champagne at Invesco Field had they been able to escape with a win. As it stands, the Cowboys are a 2-2 team in search of an identity.
In their previous two games, the Cowboys appeared to have one of the most dominant running games in the league. And on Sunday, they fed off the energy of Marion Barber, who was returning from a left quad injury. He delivered blows to Broncos defenders in the first half and then did forward rolls in celebration. Barber had 10 carries for 39 yards and a touchdown in the first half, helping the Cowboys take a 10-7 lead and wearing down the Broncos' front seven.
Then in one half, the Cowboys' offense pretended it was December (it was brisk) and pretty much fell all over itself. After touching the ball 12 times in the first half, Barber only had one carry the rest of the way. Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett indicated that Barber's injury was a concern, but the head coach and owner acted as if that was news to them.
The Cowboys only ran the ball seven times in the second half, with limited success. Through 14 quarters, Garrett had been remarkably balanced with his play calling, then for no apparent reason he abandoned the running game. It wasn't as if the Broncos were putting eight players in the box to stop the run. They brought their fair share of blitzes, but they also stayed back in coverage for most of the game in an effort to take away the deep ball.
The Broncos sacked Romo five times, but at least three of those were coverage sacks. He was 14-of-18 for 134 yards in the first half because he was simply dumping off the ball to his running backs. He made a good throw to Roy Williams on the sideline to set up the Cowboys' only touchdown, but that was the longest throw he made.
For no apparent reason, Garrett basically put the game in Romo's hands in the second half. And despite a brilliant throw to Sam Hurd for a 53-yard gain on fourth-and-3 with 1:16 left, it should've never come to that. The Cowboys had the ball at the Broncos' 17-yard line early in the second half when Romo threw a pass to the sideline that was picked off by Champ Bailey. Several people in the locker room told me that Miles Austin turned the wrong direction on the route and that it wasn't Romo's fault, but it was still a huge play.
Romo was 11-of-24 in the second half and he kept hanging his receivers out to dry. Just ask Roy Williams, who took what he called the hardest hit of his life from Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams. He returned to make a clutch catch on the Cowboys' final drive, but he was on the sideline when Romo fired two passes into the end zone from the 2-yard line. Williams would've been a nice option on a fade route. Instead, Romo threw two passes to Hurd, who was blanketed by Bailey.
The Cowboys are obviously more explosive with Felix Jones (left knee) in the lineup, but I'm not convinced Garrett would've had him in the game. We somehow deluded ourselves into thinking that the Cowboys have a lot of weapons on offense. They appear to have three talented running backs and an excellent pair of tight ends. But there's no one at wide receiver who poses a consistent threat. Nothing against Hurd, but is he really the best option on consecutive plays from the 2-yard line?
The Cowboys' defense performed admirably for most of the afternoon, but it cratered at the worst possible moment. And if you're pinning your playoff hopes on the defense holding the opponent to seven points each week, you're dreaming. After putting 31 points on the board against the Giants, the Cowboys' offense has managed a combined 24 points against the Panthers and Broncos. It was a pitiful game plan in the second half -- and the execution wasn't any better.
"We had limited opportunities [in the second half]," Garrett told me after the game. "But you have to take advantage of those opportunities."
It did look like Garrett was ready to commit to the running game early in the fourth quarter, but a holding penalty on Martellus Bennett wiped out a 17-yard run by Choice. The Cowboys would've had the ball first-and-10 at the Broncos' 44. Instead, they were forced to punt and the Broncos tied the score on their next possession.
As he loaded up on Vitamin C, Jones kept repeating the Broncos' record as if that should explain everything. I guess we should've known that the Broncos' wins over the Bengals, Browns and Raiders had placed them among the NFL's elite. Jones even attempted to attribute the loss to the Cowboys' change in philosophy.
"That's part of the plan," he said. "There's more running and less depending on the pass."
And how's that working out for you, Jerry?
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
DENVER -- For about 56 minutes Sunday, fans at Invesco Field at Mile High witnessed a pretty pedestrian effort from both teams. But with the game hanging in the balance, both the Broncos' and Cowboys' offenses suddenly came alive.
The Broncos took a 17-10 lead on Kyle Orton's 51-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall. The Cowboys had kept Marshall locked up for much of the afternoon, but he caught the ball and forced defenders to chase him all over the field en route to the end zone. Considering the way Tony Romo had played most of the afternoon, you didn't give the Cowboys much hope to race down the field and win the game.
But on fourth-and-3, he delivered a perfect pass to Sam Hurd, who turned it upfield for 53 yards. The Cowboys drove it to the 8-yard line but they failed to punch it in the end zone on two Romo throws. With five seconds left, Romo tried to fit the ball into Hurd. Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey reached in with his left hand to knock the ball away. It was an unbelievable ending to what had mostly been a dud of a game.
The Broncos racked up double-digit penalties, often putting themselves in third-and-long situations. Neither quarterback did anything to distinguish himself -- right up until the Broncos got the ball back late in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys' defense played well for most of the day, but it faltered down the stretch.
After having 11 carries in the first half, Marion Barber only carried it once in the second half. The Cowboys had to rely on Tashard Choice. And they didn't have that many opportunities because the Broncos controlled the clock and the ball.
Romo was at least accurate in the first half, but he was dumping everything off to his running backs. Orton was all over the map in the first half, missing wide-open receivers on several occasions.
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.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
DENVER --Here are some quick observations of the first half.
- The Cowboys have 13 first downs, the Broncos five. The Cowboys have outgained the Broncos, 183-104. They only lead by three points, though, because of the Tony Romo fumble deep inside Cowboys territory.
- Marion Barber looked really strong early in this game. The Cowboys are monitoring him closely and they seemed to back off him late in the first half. Tashard Choice has eight carries for 16 yards but he's caught three passes for 34 yards. Barber has 10 carries for 39 yards and a touchdown. A pretty heroic effort given Barber's injury situation.
- Knowshon Moreno just did what you absolutely can't do to start a half: He fumbled the ball, giving the Cowboys great field position at the Broncos' 27-yard line. Great job by DeMarcus Ware getting the strip.
- Kyle Orton is 9-of-15 for 87 yards and a touchdown but he's actually played worse than those numbers indicate. He's just not sharp at all.
- It's been really interesting watching Barber lobby to get back in the game every time he's on the sideline. You can tell that running backs coach Skip Peete is really torn about how much time to give him. Now it looks like Choice is banged up, so the Cowboys may have to ride Barber. Looks like Choice is trying to walk it off right now. From here, it looks like Choice is favoring his left ankle.
- Bradie James and Keith Brooking combined to make seven tackles in the first half. They're doing a good job at the point of attack -- especially James.
- Another huge turnover by Romo. Not sure whose fault that was. Looks like Romo's the one who made the poor decision.
- Gerald Sensabaugh is wearing a cast. I think we've seen the last of him today.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson
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.|
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 likelyabsence 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 ESPN’s 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.