It was not pretty. It was hard-earned and, at times, the game was a field goal away from turning into a dire situation. Yet, through it all, some big plays sparked the Denver Broncos on both sides of the ball and helped them improve to 4-0 as they defeated the Minnesota Vikings 23-20.

The Broncos held the lead the through three quarters and were only briefly tied with the Vikings, but the team from up north simply would not go away. They matched the Broncos’ physicality and made plays despite the home team’s constant pressure on Teddy Bridgewater.

A 13-point lead late in the second quarter, one that was built on a 72-yard touchdown run by Ronnie Hillman, quickly evaporated. A lengthy 13-play drive that ended in the Vikings’ first three points was followed by a Peyton Manning-thrown interception that quickly produced a touchdown with just 12 seconds left in the half.

The halftime score of Denver 13, Minnesota 10, would not last long. The Broncos came out of the locker room on a mission and drove 80 yards in 3:50 but had a tough time getting in the end zone. It took them four goal line plays and a well-devised play-action pass to Owen Daniels to stretch their lead to 20-10.

The two teams then swapped two punts apiece until Adrian Peterson made his lone impact play of the afternoon. He took a handoff up the middle and the Broncos brought eight players along the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately none were over the left guard and he bolted for 48 yards, making the game a three point contest at 20-17. Two plays into the Broncos ensuing drive Manning threw his second interception of the game and Minnesota capitalized and tied the score at 20.

The Broncos had an answer for the Vikings as well. Manning led a nine-play drive and set up what would be the game-winning field goal. McManus, who hit field goals of 33 and 47 yards earlier in the day was once again on target from 39 yards out. His final field goal gave the Broncos the lead back, 23-20.

The defense was then called on to finally send the Vikings on their way with a loss. Miller tallied his first sack of the game on the second play of the drive but the Vikings overcame the nine yard loss with a Bridgewater scramble of ten yards, followed by a 17-yard pass to Mike Wallace. But T.J. Ward, who was flying around the field, tallied another Broncos takeaway in the closing minutes of the game. On a safety blitz he came around Bridgewater’s blindside and stripped the young quarterback. Miller recovered the ball and the game was over.

Through it all the Broncos battled through self-inflicted penalties and kept the NFL’s leading rusher in check with sound tackling. The game featured several big plays by both teams, the Broncos simply made more.

Best quote of the night

“It is definitely beneficial to know you can win those close games. When you’re untested and you are blowing people out, when that tough game does come you don’t know how you are going to respond. When you have those though games you know you can finish it,” Hillman said of the Broncos close wins this season.


Demaryius Thomas is always a favorite target of Manning but Sunday afternoon he was a 229-pound security blanket. Emmanuel Sanders, who had been getting a lot of third down looks and targets throughout the season, could not get open regularly, leading to Thomas’ big day. Xavier Rhodes was matched up with Thomas for the majority of his targets and down the stretch the Vikings cornerback wouldn’t give in.

“It was a good matchup. He is a great player and I looked forward to it all week,” Thomas said after the game. “It was a bit difficult when they pressed up but I was just trying to go out and beat the guy. I am trying to do whatever I have to do to let people know I can play. I want to be the best so I’m always competing.”

He finished the contest with nine receptions, on 12 targets for 93 yards. The rest of the team only combined for eight catches.

Honorable mentions: Ronnie Hillman’s 72-yard touchdown was a breath of fresh air for the struggling run game of the Broncos. He finished with 103 yards on 11 carries. Brandon McManus was also a huge part of the Broncos win. He went 3-for-3 on field goals and stayed perfect on the season.

Defensive MVP

Ward once again showed how versatile a player he is. From his strong safety position he made tackles all over the field Sunday afternoon. He sacked Bridgewater on the fourth play of the game and stripped the ball for the Broncos lone takeaway on the Vikings last play of the day. When asked after the victory about why he likes Wade Phillips 3-4 defense Ward was adamant in his response.

“I love it. It allows me to make a lot of plays at a lot of positions and it allows everybody else to make plays. I think there was about six guys who made huge plays today and that’s kudos to Coach Wade’s defense.”

His stat line after the game was simply remarkable. He finished the day with six tackles (two for a loss), one quarterback hit, one pass defended, one forced fumble and two sacks.

Honorable mention: DeMarcus Ware was a machine Sunday afternoon from the start. He forced Bridgewater into the arms of T.J.Ward on the fourth play of the game and two plays later got a sack of his own. He has been a driving force with his play and leadership.

Best statistics of the night

The Broncos defense tallied seven sacks on the afternoon and outside of Peterson’s 48-yard run, held the All-Pro to only 33 yards on 15 carries. The sacks came from seven different players. It is a defense that continues to show immense depth and clutch timing when a big play is needed.

“As players, of course we follow our coaches’ game plans, but our mentality every week is to attack. We want to just make it was difficult as we possibly can on a an opposing offense to amen any runs or passes. As a defense, I think that we had an aggressive mentality and we’ve showed that weekly,” Shane Ray said after the impressive defensive performance.

Worst quote of the night

“[The line of scrimmage] spread like the Red Sea; it just opened up,” Peterson said of his 48-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. “I think [Aqib] Talib, maybe, he was right in the middle of the field, and he was already pursuing in so I just had to cut. He turned his hips, but it was too late. I was already gone.”

Offensive LVP

Manning led the team on a game-winning, fourth-quarter drive and helped his team improve to 4-0. With that said, he had two critical interceptions, the only two turnovers of the game by the Broncos, that easily could have handed them the loss. On both plays it appeared that Manning was looking far too long at his intended targets and in turn the Vikings defenders, first by Anthony Barr, and then by Harrison Smith jumped in front of the route and intercepted the passes.

“We had two disappointing turnovers there and one was before the half that led to a touchdown for them. Another one we were backed up and allowed them to tie the game, not backed up necessarily, but it gave them good field position and allowed them to tie the game,” Manning detailed after the game.

He finished the day with 17 completions on 27 attempts fort 213 yards. His arm strength on some throws was alarming and Thomas had to come back for the ball on several occasions. His 68.9 passer ratings highlights his average day.

Defensive LVP

Second year cornerback and 2014 first-round draft pick, Bradley Roby had a tough outing Sunday. Entering the game, the Broncos passing defense was ranked first in the league, allowing only 176.3 yards a game. The Vikings changed that. Bridgewater threw for 269 yards and most of them were to receivers Roby was covering.

Stefon Diggs, Mike Wallace and Adam Thielen all caught passes with Roby in coverage. Roby has played a big role on the defense throughout the season and always grades his performance tough. After the game he had an idea why they had the success they had on him.

“I think I really just had to adjust to those guys and what they do well. They had a good game plan of what we do. They know we run a lot of man coverage and they called their plays accordingly. They made it kind of difficult for us,” Roby said from his locker. “Hats off to the offensive coordinator [Norv Turner] and Teddy [Bridgewater] and their receivers for making the plays down the field. That was a good team.”

Roby will likely bounce back and has been a hard worker since his arrival to the NFL, but Sunday he was visibly disappointed in his output after the game.

Worst statistic of the night

The worst statistic is becoming a trend for the Broncos. They were flagged for eight penalties in the contest. Several times the penalties ended Broncos drives or continued the Vikings on their way to putting points on the board and staying in the contest. The offensive line was called for multiple illegal formations and the defense jumped offside and held, negating big tackles and even sacks.Through three games, the Broncos are one the most-penalized teams averaging 8.25 a game.

Another bad statistic that came with the win was the Broncos failure to prevent big plays in the Vikings pass game. The Broncos finished the day allowing Bridgewater to throw eight passes for over 15 yards.

Up next

The Broncos will travel to the Oakland Raiders Sunday and play their AFC West rival that is coming off of a close 20-22 loss to the Chicago Bears. Former Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is now the head coach of the Raiders and it will add an extra element to the rivalry. The Broncos win Sunday moves them two games ahead of the second-place Raiders and San Diego Chargers.

All in all, the Broncos escaped the fourth game of the season with a tough earned victory and have proven that both sides of the ball can contribute in a win. Many football teams approach the season in quarters and the Broncos could not be positioned any better.

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