MINNEAPOLIS –Some takeaways, you make. Others are handed to you. But they all count just the same.
As Sunday’s 35-32 Broncos win over the Vikings grows more distant in the past, few will remember that the Broncos’ two crucial interceptions were not taken by force, but by being in the right place for wayward throws from talented, but erratic, rookie quarterback Christian Ponder.
In between the two interceptions, the Vikings sailed to scores on six of 11 possessions, were only held to one three-and-out and produced three touchdown drives that covered 77 or more yards, including a 12-play, 96-yard march to a second-quarter lead they wouldn’t relinquish until the final period.
In that same span, Ponder seared the Broncos, completing 25 of 40 passes for 350 yards and three touchdowns, amassing a 115.6 quarterback rating. But the two interceptions ultimately defined his day, accounting directly for seven points and setting up the game-winning field goal as time ran out.
Mario Haggan, who made his first 2011 start for the injured Von Miller, had the first one, returning it 16 yards for a touchdown that would be the Broncos’ only score until the offense roused itself from a first-half slumber.
“I’m just happy that Ponder threw it to where I happened to be,” Haggan said. “He is a good, up-and-coming quarterback that does a lot of good things. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
But Haggan’s positioning in the right flat was not a tactical accident.
“It’s something we worked on,” he said. “Early in the game we were jumping some routes and I was just patient with that one.
“Coach D.A. (defensive coordinator Dennis Allen) made a good call on our defense. I just did what I was supposed to do.”
The same was true when Ponder looked to his left side with 1:33 left and locked in on Percy Harvin, who had tortured the Broncos with 156 yards on eight receptions.
Broncos cornerback Andre’ Goodman knew Ponder would be looking for his most dangerous target — and also knew that the passer would be going in his direction, since the Vikings’ offense found its form by repeatedly throwing at Goodman, who spent much of the day in single coverage because other defensive backs and linebackers were needed to supplement the pass rush with Miller injured.
But for the matchup to work in the Vikings’ favor once again, the throw had to be on target.
It wasn’t close.
“(Ponder) had a read on that play where he thought he had a chance to get it in there,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “The corner (Goodman) did a good job of sinking underneath the coverage and made a nice play. It was just a good play on their part.”
Goodman saw the moment differently.
“Bad pass by the quarterback,” he said. “I was in the right place at the right time, but it was a bad pass by the quarterback. I’m pretty sure one it’s one he wishes he had back.”
By then, it was too late, leaving the Vikings to lament their seventh defeat in eight games decided by one score this season — and the Broncos to celebrate their fifth consecutive win in games that close and sixth overall in seven games.
During that 6-1 run, the Broncos have a plus-two turnover margin, have 10 takeaways and have only finished in the negative once — not coincidentally, in their only loss during that span (minus-3 against the Lions). In the 1-4 start, they had a minus-six margin, posted seven takeaways and didn’t have a positive ratio until Week 5, when Tim Tebow entered at halftime.
The Broncos haven’t made many mistakes lately. Sunday, the Vikings did — and Denver made them pay.