After wading through months of heartache and melancholy, Denver Broncos fans were finally rewarded by a dazzling second-half display at home, on Sunday.

Who was most responsible for this delightful morsel of joy, and who nearly prevented a deserving Broncos Country from getting to enjoy it? Let’s take a look.

Denver Broncos Stock Up

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Denver Broncos

Dec 18, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons (31) celebrates his second interception with Denver Broncos cornerback Pat Surtain II (2) against the Arizona Cardinals at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Simmons

For the second time in three weeks, Justin Simmons had a multi-interception game.

On top of being both incredibly rare and impressive, the two efforts have been critical in making the team competitive, and in winning this week’s game.

Simmons’ first interception set the Denver Broncos up in position for an easy field goal, and a 6-0 lead, though Brandon McManus was unable to take advantage. Then, his second interception set up the game-clinching score, as it gave Denver’s offense the ball on Arizona’s 10-yard line (which was advanced to the 5-yard line by way of penalty). Simmons gift-wrapped 10 points for the Broncos, even if some of those eggs are being counted before hatching.

Both interceptions were also impressive displays of the elite safety that Simmons is.

On both, he perfectly read Colt McCoy and made aggressive jumps on the route to put himself in ideal position to make the big play. On the first, he decided to crash down on the play, despite being the deep safety, because he recognized the shot McCoy was taking and went to attack the catch point. That aggression paired with a too-high throw from McCoy created the turnover. The second came under similar circumstances, as he collapsed to make a tackle on AJ Green, only for another errant throw from McCoy to land directly in Simmons’ hands.

Simmons is now the only active NFL player with at least three interceptions in each of the past five seasons. A pillar of consistency.

Justin Simmons is an all-time Bronco, and it’s a shame he’s one of very few franchise legends who’s never gotten to be a part of a great team. Hell, he hasn’t even gotten to be a part of a playoff team. Hopefully that’s around the corner soon.

Latavius Murray & Marlon Mack

The Denver Broncos running back is depleted to the point they’re leaning on a grab bag of running backs that have spent at least three weeks on a practice squad this season; their line is depleted to the point they’re on their No. 2 and 4 offensive tackle, No. 2 and No. 4 guards, and No. 2 center; and yet, they just tallied 168 yards on the ground.

No matter the context, it’s impressive. It’s jaw-dropping when you consider the cast that accomplished the feat.

Latavius Murray was the primary bell cow, garnering 142 yards on 25 touches, the lion’s share of which (130 yards on 24 carries) came on the ground.

His punishing rushing style and veteran vision allowed him to consistently bite off chunks of five-or-more yards, and when a window opened, he showed the juice to fire upfield. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Murray is much larger than your average back, and when he gets rolling, it’s a nightmare for any defensive back to attempt the tackle.

Murray’s most impressive run of the day was arguably his touchdown carry, where he lept into and spun through a tackle, and fully extended to reach the painted stretch of turf. The score paired with the point-after extended the Denver Broncos’ lead to eight.

Murray also had multiple carries that went for more than 20 yards, which helped to provide the offense with explosive plays, which is generally hard to come by in a Brett Rypien-led offense.

That was complimented nicely by the slashing ability of Marlon Mack, who was less involved in the offense, but was even more effective on his touches, averaging 7.3 yards per carry. Mack also scored for the second-straight week, as he tallied a pivotal go-ahead score that was the mark of the offense rolling.

The Denver Broncos were perfect in the redzone this week, which was critical to their victory, and Mack and Murray were the top reasons why.

Brett Rypien

When Brett Rypien came in for Russell Wilson against the Kansas City Chiefs, it was bad.

Wilson had seemingly recaptured the magic Denver thought they were acquiring this offseason, as he led the Broncos on a remarkable comeback, which had the team within grasp of ending their seven-year drought vs. the Chiefs. He appeared to teleport past a defender, on a scramble that looked like ‘the old Russell Wilson’, as opposed to ‘old Russell Wilson’, and got his team down to the one-inch line, only to be knocked unconcious and out of the game.

Rypien polished off the scoring drive, but Denver’s momentum was sucked out of the building, and the drop-off from Wilson immediately became obvious.

To go from that low, to the high of turning in one of the best quarterbacking performances of the Denver Broncos’ season is more than enough to earn Rypien a spot in this column.

He had a near perfect game, dicing the red birds up to the tune of 21-for-26 (80.8% completion percentage) for 197 yards (7.3 yards per attempt) one touchdown and one interception. That’s one of the most efficient quarterbacking performances by a Broncos quarterback since 2014.

The interception was an ugly throw and a glaring gaffe, but is explained by the fact that he thought an Arizona defender jumped offside, and so he was taking a hyper-aggressive shot on what he believed to be a free play. It still wound up being a poor decision, and one that hurt the team, but that makes the play easier to swallow.

That play was also preceded by maybe Rypien’s best play of the game, where he somehow escaped a sack to find Mack on a little shovel pass, which turned a drive-killing, point-erasing sack into a chain-moving completion.

It also should be noted that the offense is averaging more yards per game and more points per game when Brett Rypien starts (16.5 ppg and 325 ypg), than when Russell Wilson starts (15.4 ppg and 315 ypg), against better — or at the very least, similar — levels of defensive competition (the defenses Rypien has faced have allowed 22.8 points and 329.5 yards per game and, on average, would rank 10th in defensive DVOA, while the defenses Wilson has faced have allowed 22.6 points per game, 350.5 yards per game, and would average out to being DVOA’s 20th-best defense).

Now, that’s not to say that Rypien is better than Wilson. He is not.

However, that is to say that the lack of a production gap between the two is disappointing. You wouldn’t expect that from a Wilson-led attack vs. a Rypien-led attack. You’re paying Wilson a top-end quarterbacking fee, because the belief is he’ll elevate the talent around him. That’s how you justify the premium price. The fact you can’t see much gap in the offensive output when Wilson is at the helm demonstrates that there isn’t much elevation going on.

It’s also to say that Rypien’s malliability and his willingness to operate under center helps boost the run game, and one would hope that Wilson shows similar malliability next season.

Patrick Surtain II and Damarri Mathis

Justin Simmons’ superstar showing was a lot more obvious, but the job Damarri Mathis and Patrick Surtain II did was arguably just as impressive.

Against a receiving group that featured DeAndre Hopkins, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, Robbie Anderson, and A.J. Green, they were targeted a combined five times, and allowed a measly 22 yards. All of those 22 yards were tallied by Hopkins, the superstar, and that’s the type of paltry production you can live with there.

Mathis was a legitimate lockdown corner, as the Cardinals looked his way just twice over the course of the game, and one of those targets was deflected.

Meanwhile, Surtain suffocated Hopkins, tallied a game-sealing interception, and nearly had a heart-stopping interception in the back of the endzone. Both plays were remarkable efforts, and his first was a brilliant display of his high-end football IQ (as he quickly reacts to McCoy and more-or-less abandons his zone to make the play on the football) and his practically unparalleled athleticism.

He continues to solidify his superstar status.

Denver’s young duo is cheap and under the Broncos’ control for the next three years. That’s the type of financial advantage that can mitigate overpays on the Denver Broncos’ roster.

Jerry Jeudy

This week it was clear the offense, from the onset, had plans of making Jerry Jeudy its focal point in the passing game, and they did precisely that, and achieved tremendously positive results.

No one on the Denver Broncos was close to being targeted as much as Jerry Jeudy, as he had double the targets of the second-most involved option, and those attempts to Jeudy were comfortably the most efficient look for the passing game. Jeudy received a target on nearly a third of Rypien’s passing attempts (30.8%) and on nearly a quarter of his total dropbacks (24.2%). A target to Jeudy averaged 9.5 yards, while every other dropback averaged 3.2 yards, and every other passing attempt averaged 6.7 yards. That denotes an improvement of 41.8 percent, when the offense targeted Jerry Jeudy, as opposed to targeting any other receiver.

Jeudy has always been phenomenally talented, but seemingly hadn’t put all the pieces together, and was poorly utilized for much of his first two seasons in the league. Now, the pieces are coming together, and he’s being used in the best way he ever has been.

It’s exciting to imagine what’s next for the young pass catcher.

Deshawn Williams

Deshawn Williams doesn’t get much love, especially playing alongside Dre’Mont Jones, D.J. Jones, and Mike Purcell, but today, he was a star.

It felt that every time Colt McCoy or Trace McSorely tried to escape, they found themselves ensnared in the talons of Williams, who finished the game with 2.5 of the Denver Broncos’ three sacks, and four of the team’s seven hits.

On top of being the team’s most productive pass-rushing presence, Williams had arguably the best game of his career. His career-best mark for sacks was two, and his career-best mark for quarterback hits was also at two.

This week, he cruised past both marks, and he did so in a big spot.

He was asked to replace Dre’Mont Jones today, and that’s no small task. Nonetheless, Williams passed the challenge with flying colors.

Denver Broncos Stock Down

Denver Broncos quarterback Brett Rypien (4) is sacked by Arizona Cardinals defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter (93) in the third quarter at Empower Field at Mile High.

Dec 18, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Brett Rypien (4) is sacked by Arizona Cardinals defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter (93) in the third quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Denver Broncos’ offensive line

This week the Denver Broncos lost Netane Muti to the Las Vegas Raiders, who chose the Raiders over staying in Denver. Almost immediately, that error was thrown under the spotlight, as Quinn Meinerz exited the game with an eye injury, and the Broncos’ lack of depth across the offensive line sunk their chances, almost single-handedly.

In the first 20 minutes, Brett Rypien was sacked four times and was hit six times, both of which are ridiculous counts.

A lot of those sacks came in critical moments too.

While the first drive of the game was rolling, Compton drew an offensive holding penalty, upon entering the lineup, which put Brett Rypien in a hole he couldn’t climb out of, and stalled the Denver Broncos’ drive. They had to settle for a long field goal attempt.

The second drive of the game also reached midfield, but then sputtered and stalled following two sacks (one on first down and one on third down) that exploited Tom Compton’s slot on the offensive line.

The fourth drive of the game saw more of the same, as the offense opened with a blown-up run play, which lost two yards, and then a sack, which lost eight yards. That drive unsurprisingly ended in a three-and-out.

At the end of the first half, the line had allowed six sacks, a strip-sack fumble, and eight quarterback hits. They settled down some in the second half, which helped open the door for a comeback opportunity for the Denver Broncos, but the damage they caused in the first half shouldn’t be ignored.

This entire unit needs an overhaul, and they’re set to get one this off-season. It’d be a surprise if more than two starters returned.

Brandon McManus

For a long time, the Denver Broncos have held onto Brandon McManus and have paid him well, despite him not being a superstar kicker, simply because he was stable, reliable, and consistent.

This season, he has been anything but.

He has now missed three field goals from inside 40 yards, after missing just two such field goals over the past four seasons combined. He’s also missed two extra points this season. Combine those two numbers, and you have five missed chip shots on the season — the most of his career.

He’s also publicly tweeted video clips in an effort to throw his teammates under the bus and has made public postgame comments (like his KOA interview following the Jets loss) blaming his teammates for mistakes that were entirely his own.

All while being Football Outsiders’ 25th-bestkicker prior to this performance.

He’s not worth top-10 kicker money, and that’s how he’s being paid. The Denver Broncos should move on promptly.