Broncos quarterback Drew Lock had no reason to be confident when offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s game plan began to download onto his iPad last week.
Lock had thrown 10 interceptions in the last five games and the offense was mired in a season-long funk. Plus, he was nursing an injury to his chest.
“When I saw the game plan come rolling in, a little on Monday, a little on Tuesday, you’re like, ‘OK, here we go. We’re going to roll this week,’” Lock said.
Believe it or not, the Broncos’ offense did get on a roll, the kind of roll envisioned when running back Melvin Gordon was signed this past season to join Phillip Lindsay. A two-pronged running game. Yards after contact. Chunk plays. Steady gains.
And a win.
Led by a season-high 189 yards rushing, the Broncos overcame Gordon’s goal-line fumble to post a 20-13 upset win over surging Miami when safety Justin Simmons intercepted quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s pass in the end zone with 1:03 remaining.
Gordon rushed 15 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Lindsay, limited to four carries in last week’s loss at Las Vegas, had 16 attempts for 82 yards.
“(Running it) was a big part of winning that game, obviously,” coach Vic Fangio said after the Broncos improved to 4-6 and gained a season-best 459 yards. “I’ve always said a quarterback’s two best friends are a running game and a good defense and for the most part, we had that going.”
The defense produced six sacks and five three-and-outs and sealed the game after Fitzpatrick, who replaced rookie Tua Tagovailoa with 10:44 remaining, led the Dolphins from their 1-yard line into the red zone.
And Lindsay/Gordon — it only took until the 10th game to see the Broncos’ plan of a 1-1A running back tandem in full force.
“When you’re running it decently and playing good defense, the whole complexion of the game is different,” Fangio said.
Big-time different. The Broncos didn’t have to chase the game so Shurmur could stick with his plan. Gordon/Lindsay had seven first-quarter carries, five in the second, 11 in the third and eight in the fourth.
Lindsay’s 20-yard carry sparked the first scoring drive. Gordon had a 25-yard carry and a 20-yard touchdown. Lindsay had second-half rushes of 18 and 20 yards. The Broncos finished with five explosive rushes (gain of at least 12 yards) — they had only 17 in the first nine games combined.
“(Teams) all do the same thing; it’s about executing,” Lindsay said. “There’s no science to it. Can you get five yards? Can you get the touchdown? Can you get a first down? That’s all it is. We, as people, make things too complicated. It’s Point A to Point B.”
Lindsay’s theory is well-taken. Simplicity and attempting to go from Point A to Point B was also Plan A, but Fangio said Shurmur used a “couple” of new run plays, too.
“We were able to stay with it, too, and that’s two-fold,” Fangio said. “Part of the problem in the Atlanta game, we got too far behind. The Raiders game, we would run it and go three-and-out a bunch and that cuts down on your opportunities.”
Said Lock: “Our run game exploded.”
The Broncos sent home the announced crowd of 5,351 with something to cheer about. The remaining home games against New Orleans, Buffalo and Las Vegas will not have fans present. When the Mile High stands are (hopefully) filled next year, the Broncos will look different, but how much so?
What beating Miami could show general manager John Elway is that maybe, just maybe, staying the course after a wacky 2020 is the most prudent move. You know, show some patience. Beating the Dolphins should serve as the proper barometer for Elway and Fangio.
Are the Broncos still flawed? Absolutely. They were minus-1 in turnover differential. Lock’s interception led to Miami’s only touchdown and Gordon’s goal-line fumble cost the Broncos a chance to coast to the finish line.
“It’s something I work on every week and something I think about and something I try and be really cautious about,” said Gordon, who has lost four fumbles this year.
Gordon’s reaction when Simmons intercepted Fitzpatrick?
“I was happy as hell,” Gordon said with a laugh.
Are the Broncos turning a positive corner? Next week’s game against New Orleans will tell. Remember, the operation appeared to be humming after the Broncos won at the Jets and New England to improve to 2-3 and certainly after they rallied to beat the Los Angeles Chargers to move to 3-4. Even the average teams find a way to stack two wins together. Miami (6-4) was the first team the Broncos beat this year with a winning record.
Is Denver showing it can be all-around functional? Yes and that should be the key evidence for Elway. The offense controlled the line of scrimmage, the defense had six sacks and five three-and-outs and the maligned special teams did their part.
“It was a great team win,” Fangio said.
A great team win at a great time with the noise surrounding the Broncos increasing in volume with every stinker. This was a team that wasn’t competitive at Atlanta in the first half and at Las Vegas in the second half. Another bad loss and the chatter would have intensified. But if the Broncos have found the elixir — running game, pass rush and timely throws from Lock — at least they’ll be interesting down the stretch.
“It’s good we can lean on the run game, let it develop and have the linebackers move up so (Lock) can have open receivers,” Lindsay said. “(This) lets him know he doesn’t have to take the world on by himself. We’re doing this as a unit.”