Once again, it took a fourth-quarter comeback to secure the Denver Broncos' 35-32 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Once again—albeit not since 1998t—he Broncos have a five-game winning streak.
The end result was the desired result on Sunday. After trudging through the first half, the game turned into a slugfest to see who could hit back hardest and who would ultimately be left standing.
The following slides examine how each unit performed in the Week 13 matchup.
The Denver Broncos' defensive line played an outstanding match on Sunday. Especially early on, they set the tone by hitting Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder early and often.
The defensive line was responsible for two of the Broncos' three sacks of the day, coming via Elvis Dumervil and Ryan McBean
Because of their sustained pressure on Ponder and their ability to bottle up the Vikings' run, the defensive line earns a stellar rating.
The linebacker corps was phenomenal on Sunday. Initially hampered with the loss of Rookie-of-the-Year candidate Von Miller, the rest of the unit stepped up in a huge way.
Mario Haggan—Miller's replacement—made his presence known immediately with a vicious hit on Christian Ponder early. He then topped that with an interception returned for a touchdown in the first quarter. It would be the only points earned by the Broncos in the first half.
Throughout the rest of the game, the Broncos' linebackers were flying around the field. Wesley Woodyard was causing confusion, and Joe Mays and D.J. Williams were dolling out punishing hits all day long. Especially without a dynamic player in Miller, this group elevated their level of play.
The Broncos' secondary has been thinned out considerably over the past couple of weeks, and it is beginning to show. Although they have still received inspired play from Champ Bailey, Brian Dawkins and Andre Goodman, their recent rash of injuries is beginning to show.
Once Ponder found his stride and the game became a boxing match, Percy Harvin gashed the Bronco secondary several times for big plays, huge yardage and several points. Ponder would go on to set a Vikings rookie passing record.
However, Goodman came up with the play of the game, intercepting Ponder with the game tied 32-32 and just over a minute to play, which set up the winning field goal. Without that play, this unit would have graded far lower, but as it stands, they made the play of the day.
Denver's offensive line has made drastic improvements. Inspired with a new ground attack, the O-line has the Broncos sitting atop the NFL in total yards rushing.
On Sunday, the Broncos not only continued their dominance on the ground, but this unit gave quarterback Tim Tebow more time to sit in the pocket and throw than he has seen in some time. Although they did have a somewhat costly penalty that negated a 3rd-and-12 completion, the unit was solid all day.
It's hard to say enough good things about Tim Tebow.
A 6-1 record as a starter, unflinching in the face of scorching national criticism, motivating his teammates on offense and defense alike and taking the Broncos from the cellar to the top of the division in just seven weeks—it's almost unthinkable.
Add to the list the fact that he is improving as a quarterback. On Sunday, he stayed in the pocket more than he has all season. When he was flushed out, he extended plays but continued to look downfield to find open receivers (for touchdowns), rather than just "tucking it and running."
He threw for more passing yards Sunday than in any other game this season, finishing with an NFL QB passer rating of 149.3.
Additionally, when Minnesota put points on the board and the Broncos' offensive needed to respond, Tebow answered the bell. Sometimes it took just one play.
Ultimately, he lead the Broncos to victory—again—and is making believers out of even the staunchest of critics.
Willis McGahee was once again a horse on the ground for the Broncos. Going over 100 yards again for Denver, he gained tough yards all day, especially down the stretch.
Although he did fumble once in the first half, McGahee set the tone on the opening drive of the second half when he proceeded to pound the ball down the Vikings' throat. He also scored a crucial touchdown in the fourth quarter to bring the Broncos within two points—27-29—and Tebow would ultimately convert the two-point conversion.
McGahee has found new life, and coupled with Tebow, the two are perfect complements to each other.
The wide receiver corps consisted almost entirely of Demaryius Thomas, who snagged four balls for 144 yards and two TDs. Unfortunately, he let another touchdown slip through his fingers late, and if he could have dragged his toe along the sidelines in the first half, he would have had an even bigger day.
Still, it is nice to see Thomas beginning to gel with the offense and to step up and take a more prominent role—one that he was drafted to play.
It was a somewhat disappointing day from the hometown boy, Eric Decker. Not that he played poorly, just that his number was not called very often. He did have two catches for 25 yards.
Overall grade for the receivers: B
Speaking of not having their number called very often, no Denver tight end accounted for a single reception in Sunday's game. Interestingly enough, the Broncos ran more tight-end formations than they have in the past seven weeks; they are just using them to run.
Therefore, the Broncos' tight ends have by and large become extra blockers, but they have taken to the role without complaining. Perhaps some of the best news is that TE Dante Rosario, one of Tebow's trusted targets, seems to be okay after leaving the game early with an injury.
Overall grade: C
The special teams unit was on the hook early, especially after Eddie Royal allowed a first-quarter punt to bounce at the 10-yard line, which was then downed on the one-inch line and led to a Viking safety. Unfortunately, Royal was then injured on a subsequent punt return attempt when he collided with wide receiver Matt Willis.
However, the special teams players found ways to redeem themselves. Quan Cosby had a key 63-yard kick return that put the Broncos in Viking territory, and kicker Matt Prater sealed the contest with the game-winner.
Not too shabby,
Overall grade: B-
This coaching staff has done an incredible job, tailoring the playbook to Tebow's strengths, all the while developing him and growing him into a reliable NFL quarterback.
On Sunday, the vast majority of plays that they ran came out of a "pro-style" offense. Add to the fact that Coach Fox has completely revitalized the defense, and we are beginning to hear Coach of the Year whispers.
One thing the coaching staff did especially well on Sunday was to make halftime adjustments. After gaining just one first down the entire first half, the Broncos opened the second half with a statement-making drive, and then the offensive floodgates opened up.
Most critically, the Broncos didn't leave any points on the field, and they didn't take any points off the board. While some may have preferred to simply run the ball into the end zone at the end, the traditional field goal was successful, and the victory was secure.
Final Grade: A