Let’s see them beat a hot Atlanta Falcons team in their house in an early game, on carpet. That has been a Broncos trifecta of dubious deeds much of their history. The Broncos at their historical best wound up being dominated on the road, on carpet, and especially in the early games and in dome stadiums.
It could be a case of vu-ja-de, as comedian Robin Williams puts it, seeming like they’ve never been there before. It’s enough to cure anything that ails you. It’s as if the Broncos were cleaning out their closet and found the words “poise”, “contenders”, “driver’s seat”, “division title”, “tough”, “physical”, “comeback”, and, the most important one: Defense.
It’s been known for the better part of a decade that these are not your daddy’s Broncos. Ever since number seven rode off into the sunset, the Broncos have been like a low grade version of their old mile high selves. While this season started out with great hopes, it smacked a guardrail or was just flattened out by a road barrier of some sort.
Then along came the fourth quarter in Cleveland and it was like waking a sleeping dragon. The Broncos found themselves again and took an important step in the come -from-behind win in Cleveland. Then along came Atlanta in their Georgia Dome house in an early game on turf.
The first half started out okay for the Broncos, but they lacked a consistent punch and allowed Atlanta to get back into the game early. After the Denver defense put the Falcons on a three-and-out, the Broncos responded with a 10-play drive that started on their own 45.
The Broncos punched in a seven yard version of demolition derby as Denver back Peyton Hillis bashed in from straight-up the middle. The Denver drive consumed 4:34 and 55 yards of plastic turf.
Atlanta then decided that two can play that game and embarked on a long drive of their own. The Falcons chewed up 7:00 minutes off the clock on 12 plays before former Broncos kicker Jason Elam connected on a 46-yard field goal. At the 12:37 mark of the second period Elam connected on a 36 yarder to draw the score to 7-6.
After shutting down the Broncos first drive of the second quarter Atlanta looked to take control. They put together a 71 yard drive , stretching 71 yards and taking 3:53 off the clock to score a touchdown. Running back phenom Michael Turner busted in from nine yards out. The score at the half was Atlanta 13, Denver 7.
For Denver, the third quarter started with a message they wanted sent. The Broncos decided to go old school with the new school. They wound up running the ball six of the eleven plays for what would be a go-ahead touchdown drive that ended on another Peyton Hillis touchdown run off the right side.
Total time of the drive was just over five minutes and put the score at 14-13.
On the first play of the fourth quarter Matt Prater nailed a field goal for the Broncos to stretch it to 17-13.
Atlanta regrouped and responded with an eight play drive that ended in the run of the game.
Michael Turner, getting a tractor-trailer sized hole in the line, jet through and was off to the races. Along the way he giggled at the poor angles the Bronco DB tacklers took to try and ensnare him. Atlanta was back and screaming for vengeance while seeking a way to ice the game after regaining the lead at 20-17.
With 10:41 remaining on the game clock, the Broncos were faced with the question of what kind of team they were going to be. They responded with a series of timely passing mixed in around what was now a strong run game. On a third and goal from the Atlanta nine, Jay Cutler proved again he may be on the track of being recognized for great comebacks.
The second comeback in as many games was solidified when Cutler found Dan Graham in the short right flat of the end zone on a bullet near the turf. "Touchdown, Broncos!" and slam dunk Dan Graham on the field goal post. The Broncos now owned the lead for good at 24-20 with 5:35 left in the game.
Atlanta pushed their drive down the Broncos 37-yard line when an offensive holding call caused the Falcons to implode and Denver shutdown the threat to hang on and win in squeaker like fashion.
For both Atlanta and Denver, this is the type of game both teams needed to win to take a step into the realm of elite teams in their conference and the league.
For Atlanta, they had a solid effort overall from Michael Turner and their defense did well. Matt Ryan still appears to be something special in the making for the NFL future and enjoyed an otherwise stellar game outside of the costly, floated interception that eventually led to a Broncos field goal.
Jay Cutler has stepped into his shoes the last two weeks as an All-Pro, no-brainer candidate, and the Broncos defense is finally showing the signs that they can help keep the team close enough for the new Mr. Comeback and company.