DENVER – Three observations from the Broncos’ sixth consecutive win, a 13-10 overtime triumph over the Chicago Bears at Sports Authority Field at Mile High here Sunday.
1. THE POWER OF BELIEF.
This isn’t about religious belief; the Broncos are not a monolithic group when it comes to their religion, like any decent-sized collection of individuals from disparate backgrounds.
This also isn’t about faith — certainly not in the Merriam-Webster definition, which is a “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” After seven wins in eight games, three overtime triumphs (in which the opponent had the football in all three and was in scoring position in two) and a collective 100-41 scoring advantage in the fourth quarter and overtime of games Tim Tebow has played this season, there is ample proof that this team finds ways to turn up their effort, intensity and focus 11 when their foes are wearing down.
These comebacks reflect a team that believes in its ability to wiggle its way out of any jam, no matter how dire the odds may seem. The Broncos are the Enterprise crew of the NFL; they seem to be in over their heads with the odds against them for the first few acts of the show, but by melding their talents — bravura leadership from a bold captain or quarterback, timely work from a harried engineer or a stretched-to-the-brink defense, tight focus and cool intensity from a half-Vulcan science officer or a veteran running back, cornerback or defensive end — they solve the problem and save humanity (or the Broncos season) as we know it.
“Yeah I do shake my head. It’s like, here we go again,” said cornerback Champ Bailey. “But we find a way. I’ve got to give my teammates a lot of credit. They never stopped fighting.”
“I think it’s like an inner thing that we built as a team,” added rookie safety Quinton Carter. “We can feel it.
“Every time we’ve been in the game late, we’ve pulled it off. We’ve been there before. That’s what we said on the sideline. We’ve been here before. We know how to finish.”
2. THE FOUNDATIONS OF BELIEF.
It’s fun to say it’s a miracle; there’s nothing wrong with it, and the front-page headline on this site plays into that. It defines the visceral reaction of fans — and even neutral observers — to what has transpired these last eight weeks, and the last three in particular.
But there’s quantifiable reasons why the Broncos put themselves in positions to rally. In most weeks, it’s because the Broncos’ run-first strategy typically wears down opponents, leading to hefty per-carry averages against fatigued defenses. In this case, the Broncos were in need of a comeback because of their own shortcomings: two giveaways, five dropped passes — including a near-certain touchdown to Demaryius Thomas in the third quarter — a dropped interception by cornerback Chris Harris and multiple missed tackles of Marion Barber III on the Bears’ only touchdown drive.
“After that deep ball drop, I knew the guys believed in me,” said Thomas, who dropped three passes Sunday. “Tim came up to me and was like, ‘Just don’t worry about that. You’re going to get another chance and you’re going to win this game.’
“I just listened to him, kind of dropped my head a little bit.”
But when the Broncos needed a touchdown grab late in regulation or a sensational catch in overtime, Thomas made it. When the team needed big catches from Eric Decker late, he made them, corralling passes that appeared harder to snare than the two he dropped in the first half.
Sunday afternoon, Broncos dug their own hole. As they began to climb from it, the Bears flinched — and the Broncos knew it.
” I know their hearts were beating at the end, especially when we scored that touchdown (to pull within 10-7),” Carter said. “I think they kind of just didn’t know what to do, and our intensity kept rising.”
3. ONE SIDE’S MIRACLE IS THE OTHER’S COLOSSAL SCREW-UP.
As with many things, it’s all about perspective.
From the Chicago sideline, it’s about a series of failed chances to seize the game, a lost fumble in overtime and the most crucial mistake of all — Barber’s inexplicable run out of bounds with 1:55 left and the Broncos out of timeouts.
” I couldn’t believe he went out of bounds. I was confused.” said Carter. “After he ran out of bounds, I looked up the clock (and thought), ‘Thank you, Barber.’”
It allowed the Broncos to take possession with 57 seconds left instead of perhaps 22 seconds, which would have made a drive to a last-second field goal a long-shot proposition. In those extra seconds, the Broncos ran four plays — and drove from their 20-yard-line to Chicago’s 41.
Barber’s meandering to the sideline was perhaps the single most crucial moment in the Broncos’ comeback. Each side knew of its significance at the time, leaving both in temporary states of shock.
“Yeah, because he’s a veteran. He knows better. You can’t do that,” said Bailey. “I don’t think he tried to do it. Our guys got him out of there.”
“Stuff like that in football, you just can’t describe,” added linebacker Von Miller. “I don’t think he intentionally tried to run out of bounds; I think the pursuit in the heat of the moment just makes things like that happen. When you play fanatical defense and have a relentless pursuit to the ball, then plays like that happen.”
Although the Bears rallied to support their crushed teammate — who later fumbled to set up the Broncos’ game-winning field goal in overtime — plays like Barber’s made it clear to them that they weren’t beaten as much as they beat themselves.
“We gave the game away,” lamented Bears wide receiver/kick returner Devin Hester.