In the last two seasons, Broncos Country hasn’t had many opportunities to savor back-to-back wins.
The 24-17 win over Pittsburgh in week 12 is just the second time in 2018 the Denver Broncos have been able to win consecutive games in the regular season, and it happened just twice in 2017, such has been the Vance Joseph era.
Now on a roll at 5-6, there is mounting excitement about the prospect of the Broncos returning to the playoffs after two disappointing years of the season ending in December.Embed from Getty Images
And why not? Case Keenum has stopped throwing interceptions and started throwing touchdowns, the number of penalties — even “Holding: Offense Number 72” — has been reduced in recent weeks, and the Broncos are finding ways to win despite allowing 400+ yards passing in consecutive weeks.
It wasn’t too long ago this season we were lamenting that the Broncos had allowed a 300-yard passer in Patrick Mahomes in the week four Kansas City defeat, and had allowed a 200+ yard rusher in both weeks five and six against the New York Jets and Los Angeles Rams as a hard-fought 2-0 start quickly became 2-4.
Fast forward to the third quarter of the season. In weeks 11 and 12 — coming off a much-needed bye week — the high-powered Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers offenses feasted through the air as the Broncos allowed Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger to throw for more than 400 yards, while taking away the potent running threats of Melvin Gordon (18 carries, 69 yards) and James Conner (13 carries, 53 yards).
Yet the Broncos still won despite scoring 23 and 24 points respectively with the defense turning up big style when it matters in the red zone.Embed from Getty Images
There has been a trend this season that the Broncos have allowed offenses to gain the easy yards underneath before getting stout at the business end. It shouldn’t a surprise then that the defense allowed a 97-yard touchdown to JuJu Smith-Schuster — who finished with a monster 189 yards and a touchdown from 13 receptions — but bottled up Antonio Brown enough that he had just nine receptions for 67 yards.
The Steelers even resorted to a fake field goal touchdown to offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva. They turned out to be the only touchdowns the Steelers could manage against the Broncos because this team is now finding ways to win when it matters.
From Will Parks forcing a fumble through the end zone as Steelers tight
But let’s not get too carried away.
The Broncos still have a losing record. We’ve seen too often in the Joseph era that he can have a catastrophic breakdown and lose a game. Keenum is still holding on to the ball too long and taking sacks he shouldn’t, and the starting offensive line consists of four offensive tackles, and a guard playing center.
Who would have thought in April that one of the toughest opponents the Broncos face down the stretch would be the Cleveland Browns in week 15? But that’s the way it’s heading after they earned their first road win in three years with a dominant 45-10 win over Cincinnati.
The Broncos will head to the Queen City later this week full of confidence after consecutive wins, while the Bengals — also with a 5-6 record — will sweat on the health of quarterback Andy Dalton, who was knocked out of the Browns defeat with a thumb injury.
But back-to-back road games on opposite coasts will represent a tough ask for the Broncos with San Fransisco to follow in week 14.
The good news is the 49ers aren’t causing too many teams problems this season while their neighbors Oakland, where the Broncos will head for their week 16 Christmas game after the Saturday primetime date with the Browns, are clearly tanking whether Jon Gruden likes it or not.
If a lot of things go right for the Broncos in the next five weeks, the week 17 home game against the Chargers could actually be a meaningful game, something that will thrill Broncos Europe TV’s Michael McQuaid after seeing the Broncos lose to Tom Brady on his last two visits to Mile High.
To put together a run, the Broncos need to play well, find consistency and continue to cut down the errors.
Yes, the schedule gets easier with the final five opponents boasting a 21-33-1 record. By comparison, the last five teams the Broncos have played now sit at 33-20-1 and, of those teams, only Arizona won’t make the playoffs this season.
There is no doubt that the last two weeks have seen a better brand of football. No turnovers on offense, increased tight end production, while rookie running back Phillip Lindsay continues to be the catalyst that sparks the offense.Embed from Getty Images
Better play calling and better execution — for the most part — have been something every Broncos fan has been clamoring for all season and we are starting to see glimpses of where this team — notably the offense — is heading.
But the Broncos have never won three meaningful games in a row under Joseph, and the team last won more than two consecutive games when they started the 2016 season 4-0 before the Super Bowl hangover caught up with them.
We have seen mini resurgences before only for the promise of a turnaround to be a mirage, but other teams have done it so why not the Broncos?
With better coaching and better execution, this team could have a record similar to the Chargers at 8-3 and, in a season where only the AFC West is a certainty to have multiple playoff teams, the Broncos could sneak into the playoffs if the Ravens fall off with rookie Lamar Jackson and something happens to Andrew Luck to derail the Indianapolis Colts.
The more Joseph and Keenum right the Broncos ship, the more likely they’ll be given another chance in 2019. Something that appeared very unlikely just three weeks ago.
This team might not make it to the playoffs, just as the Chargers didn’t after a tear down the stretch last season took them from 3-6 to 9-7, but the minimum acceptable target for this season is now 8-8, preserving the record that the Broncos haven’t had back-to-back losing seasons since 1972.
So let’s not get too carried away and instead enjoy this win over a fierce AFC opponent before we turn our attention to the early game in Cincinnati on Sunday.
You are all very welcome to join us at our watch party for the Bengals game at The Brotherhood in Manchester.
And if you’ve ever wondered just how passionately we support the Denver Broncos here in Europe, take a look at our man Colum Cronin at Mile High at the end of the Pittsburgh game.