BY ARNIE MELENDREZ STAPLETONUpdated 1:34 PM MST, November 27, 2023
DENVER (AP) — For the first time in seven seasons, the Denver Broncos will head into December with a winning record, something that seemed unfathomable when they stumbled to a 1-5 start.
In their first month under Sean Payton, the Broncos (6-5) lost three games at home to underdogs — the Raiders, Commanders and Jets — who are a combined 10-22 against other opponents.
Of course, their worst loss was that 70-20 meltdown in Miami in Week 3 when they surrendered 10 touchdowns — one more than they’ve given up in their last six games combined.
They put together their most complete game yet in their 29-12 rout of the Browns (7-4), neutralizing Myles Garrett and the league’s best defense, thwarting Cleveland’s vaunted ground game, recovering three fumbles and scoring three red zone touchdowns, which has been their bugaboo.
“There were a lot of things we did that I was pleased with,” the notoriously nitpicking Payton said after moving above .500 for the first time with the Broncos. “And I felt like we beat a good football team.”
The Broncos jumped out to a 14-0 lead, which helped the defense capitalize on heavier fronts to stop the run.
“Our offense did such a great job to set us up, to be able to pin our ears back and put them in passing situations to let us get after it,” safety Justin Simmons said. “It was just great team ball. I am really proud of this team and how we have fought to keep it rolling.”
The Broncos allowed only two field goals in the first half, but the second one, with 22 seconds left before the break, prevented Denver from taking its first double-digit halftime lead in the 26 games Russell Wilson has been their starting quarterback.
And the Broncos again slogged through the third quarter, which has been their weakness all season. They took a 17-12 lead into the fourth quarter before pulling away on a Wilson touchdown pass, a Wil Lutz field goal and a safety by Zach Allen that gave Denver its largest margin of victory in nearly two years.
The Broncos’ resiliency, which has been on display going back to their last loss (19-8 at Kansas City on Oct. 12), was epitomized by how they handled Baron Browning’s debatable roughing-the-passer flag that knocked rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson out of the game and turned a third-and-12 stop into a first down for the Browns.
Two plays later, defensive tackle D.J. Jones recovered a fumble by backup QB P.J. Walker for Denver’s second takeaway, this one setting up Wilson at the Cleveland 20-yard line to start the fourth quarter.
“First of all, we’re resilient,” said Wilson, who responded with an 8-yard touchdown toss to tight end Adam Trautman. “The best part about us is we’ve been resilient for all of these games. We’ve played some really great teams, top-echelon teams, Kansas City, obviously, Buffalo on the road, which is a tough environment. Cleveland has been great all year. It’s a great defense.
“I think the best thing about us, though, is it’s about us. It’s about us being together,” Wilson said. “Our defense has been lights out. One of the best defenses in the world. Those guys have been unbelievable. ... We’ve handled the adversity. The reality is that we have a lot more ball to go. We have to stay humble and hungry. We have a lot more to do. We feel like we’re just getting started.”
Denver’s defense has done an about-face since its Miami meltdown in Week 3.
WHAT NEEDS WORK
Halftime adjustments. The Broncos have managed just one field goal and one touchdown on their opening drives after halftime. Seven times they’ve punted, including four 3-and-outs, and they’ve missed a field goal and saw another one blocked. Overall, they’ve been outscored 71-20 in the third quarter, an eerily similar score to their loss to the Dolphins.
RB Samaje Perine has been Mr. Reliable all season and on Sunday he ran seven times for 55 yards and and a touchdown.
WR Jerry Jeudy had three targets and two catches for a season-low 11 yards.
There were no injuries of consequence in the game as the Broncos remain one of the league’s healthiest teams. WR Brandon Johnson (hamstring) is eligible to return from IR this week.
5:1 — Wilson’s NFL-best touchdown-to-interception ratio. Wilson has thrown for at least one touchdown in every game this season and he hasn’t thrown an interception during Denver’s five-game winning streak.
Plus-12 — Denver’s turnover differential over its last four games, its best such stretch since 2000.
If the Broncos can extend their winning streak to six on Sunday at Houston, they’ll have wins — and tiebreakers — over the Bills, Browns and Texans, three teams they’re jockeying with to get into the AFC playoff picture.
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