The Bengals are a dangerous team with a dangerous wide receiver and the Broncos squandered a 14-point lead before rebounding in the fourth quarter to secure the victory 31-23.
The Broncos made mistakes elite teams don’t make in the first three quarters of the game, but finished the game like an elite team with an elite quarterback should, by scoring touchdowns on back-to-back possessions to take a two-score lead in the fourth quarter.
What was the play of the game for the Broncos?
The Broncos built a 10-3 with a field goal and touchdown pass in the first half, but squandered too many opportunities to do more damage with dropped passes and penalties. In a role reversal, the defense kept Peyton Manning and the offense afloat for the first two quarters and the hope was they would show up in the second half like they have many times this season.
Trindon Holliday returned the second-half kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown, which put the Broncos up 17-3 and everything was going according to plan. With a two-score lead, the Broncos could try and sit on the ball and let their pass-rushers go to work on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.
The Bengals did not comply and drove 80 yards in just over three minutes thanks to a long pass from Dalton to Jermaine Gresham and a touchdown grab by A.J. Green to cut the lead to 17-10. The pressure was on the Broncos to answer and things were going well until Manning threw an interception in the end zone after driving 54 yards.
Although Von Miller would register his third sack of the game on the series, the Bengals added a field goal to make it 17-13.
Thanks to shoddy special teams play, the Broncos would start the next series from their own 1-yard line. After two running plays and an injury to right guard Chris Kuper, Manning threw another interception.
It’s not that Manning has never thrown an interception in his career, but surely two interceptions on back-to-back throws is unusual. The second throw was particularly troubling because Manning threw the ball under pressure and his receiver had almost no chance to make a play on the ball.
Thanks to the interception, the Bengals started their drive at Denver’s 27-yard line and punched the ball in for the score in just three plays. A 19-yard pass from Dalton to Green got the Bengals to Denver’s 2-yard line and BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran it in to go up 20-17 with about 14 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Manning rebounded from his two interceptions and drove the Broncos down the field for a touchdown in less than three minutes with strikes to Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Joel Dreessen to reclaim the lead, 24-20.
Champ Bailey had been tasked with covering A.J. Green with minimal help and the Bengals had routinely thrown in his direction and had good success. That is, until the veteran cornerback got his revenge in the fourth quarter with an interception on a 3rd-and-25 pass intended for Green.
The Broncos would take over at the Cincinnati 46-yard line and Willis McGahee would do the heavy lifting from there, with 31 yards on the drive. Manning put a dagger in the heart of the Bengals with a four-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker to give the Broncos an 11-point lead with just over three minutes to play.
The Bengals managed another field goal before failing to recover an onside kick attempt.
Manning, Bailey and the rest of the Broncos had a rocky day, but in the end they found a way to win a game on the road in the fourth quarter when they clearly weren’t playing their best football. That’s what elite teams do and that’s what the Broncos did on Sunday.
The Broncos travel to the east coast again in Week 10 to take on another dangerous team in the Carolina Panthers. Don’t let the 2-6 record fool you, the Panthers lost to the Chicago Bears and the Atlanta Falcons by a total of three points and shut down Robert Griffin III in Week 9.
The Broncos have rightfully earned the “elite” designation and they can't afford to falter against a weak second-half schedule.