|Broncos LB Wesley Woodyard's second-quarter interception sparked a 27-0 run that finished the Saints. (US Presswire)|
There were foibles here and there for the Broncos during Sunday night's 34-14 win over the New Orleans Saints. There was a poor decision on a kickoff return, blown coverage on Saints RB Darren Sproles out of the backfield that led to a touchdown and a Willis McGahee fumble in the first quarter that was his third lost fumble of the season.
But the Broncos easily compensated. LB Wesley Woodyard was one of the Broncos linebackers beaten by Sproles on the touchdown, but he later intercepted Drew Brees on a fourth-and-2 play to swing momentum in Denver's favor.
The shortsighted choice to return the football from 5 yards deep in the end zone on the opening kickoff of the second half put the Broncos in poor field position at their 7-yard line, but Peyton Manning and the offense quickly overcame it and scored their third touchdown of the game 11 plays and 93 yards later. McGahee ended up leading the Broncos with 155 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown.
What's more, this was a complete effort. No area of the team lagged far behind another. Denver knew eventually it would have an offense that stood among the league's best; for the first time there's reason to believe its defense could ascend there as well; the Broncos have allowed just 14 points to the Chargers and Saints over the last six quarters -- the same total as the defense itself has tallied on a pair of takeaways in that same span.
"I think you saw kind of the tip of the iceberg in what this defense can accomplish, what we can do," LB Keith Brookingsaid.
Peyton Manning was his usual self -- or what has become the "usual" for him a four-week stretch unlike any other in NFL history: four consecutive games with 300 yards, three touchdowns and a completion percentage of at least 70 percent. The Broncos went over 300 passing yards and 200 rushing yards for the first time in seven years and just the fourth time in history. Runs and passes were mixed with dexterity, and the Saints could never hunker down against one when the possibility of the other -- and a play-action pass to cross them up -- lurked. The only reason this isn't an A+? Two fumbles, one each by McGahee and RB Ronnie Hillman -- although on the positive side, Hillman's fumble was not lost to the opposition, unlike Denver's 10 previous fumbles this year. Previous game's grade: B+
The Broncos might need suspended LB D.J. Williams for depth when he's eligible to return to the 53-man roster the week of their rematch with San Diego on Nov. 18, but if Brooking and WLB Wesley Woodyard keep playing well, Williams might be limited to rotational work. Woodyard intercepted Brees and forced a fumble on a sack, and Brooking continued to stabilize the run defense, holding the Saints to 3.0 yards per carry. Denver's game plan was effective at forcing the Saints into third-and-long, and it allowed the Broncos to effectively pressure Brees, forcing throws into traffic that led to some disastrous third-down numbers: 2-of-11 passing for 21 yards with one sack for 12 yards, an 8.3 percent conversion rate and a piddling average of 27 inches per third-down play. Previous game's grade: A-
Special teams: B+
Trindon Holliday showed enough spark on punt returns to earn a longer look; his 22-yard jaunt was the Broncos' longest of the season and allowed him to display a series of moves that make him an intriguing prospect. But Omar Bolden made a poor decision to return a kickoff from the end zone to start the second half; he cut back across the field and was tackled at the Denver 7-yard-line. Just one of Britton Colquitt's five punts was returned by Sproles, and Matt Prater was perfect on placekicks and sent all six of his kickoffs for touchbacks. Previous game's grade: D-
John Fox learned well from his previous experience against the Saints. Fox was the opposing coach the last time the Saints lost by at least 20 points (Oct. 19, 2008; 30-7 at Carolina) and led the Panthers to wins over them in five of nine games in which Brees played a majority of the snaps. The key in those wins was a balanced offense and a defense that limited big plays; the Broncos did that Sunday, allowing just one gain of more than 20 yards. Previous game's grade: B+