The Denver Broncos 34-14 win over the New Orleans Saints was Big and somewhat Easy, or so it seemed. The Broncos now have sole possession of first place in the AFC West, and they’re above the .500 mark for the first time since week one.
Peyton Manning led drives of 98 and 93 yards chewed up time and kept Drew Brees off the field. Manning went 22-for-30 for 305 yards, and 3 touchdowns.
Starting from the Denver 2-yard line, Manning threw his first big pass to Demaryius Thomas for a gain for 41 yards. The end of the drive was capped off by a Willis McGahee 14-yard run and then a 1-yard punch in for the score. With the first score of the game, McGahee tied Maurice Jones-Drew for the second most touchdowns among active NFL players.
“Our running game really came alive tonight,” Manning said. “I thought that sort of set the tone for us offensively. All the deep passes were off play-action. If you’re not running the ball well, there’s on reason for the defense to bite on play-action.”
The passing game came alive after that. Manning found Eric Decker in the end zone for a 13-yard pass. That was enough to stoke Decker’s fire. Before the touchdown grab, Decker had just 1 catch for 5 yards. He finished the game with 4 catches for 43 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The second longest drive of the game was a nearly five and a half minute drive to open the second half. Manning threw a perfectly placed ball over Demaryius Thomas’s right shoulder for the 1-yard touchdown score to put the Broncos up 24-7. Thomas led the team in receiving with 7 catches for 137 yards.
“He is pretty good isn’t he,” wide receiver Brandon Stokley said of Thomas. “It is fun to watch him and Decker. They both played great and I love watching those guys do their thing, make great catches, and score touchdowns.”
Manning’s third and final touchdown of the night came off a 2-yard pass to Decker.
It wasn’t just steady offensive drives though. This Broncos defense held the No. 1 ranked passing offense to just 201 yards, or 148 yards below their average.
The guy to jumpstart the defense was none other than linebacker Wesley Woodyard. He sacked Brees for a loss of 12 yards and forced a fumble on the play. That didn’t turn into points right away, but it injected vitality into the defense.
The play of the game came when Woodyard intercepted Brees on 4th-and-2 in the second quarter. The Saints decided to go for it at mid-field, and Woodyard was locked in.
“They ran that play earlier in the drive and I wasn’t there to make that play so I knew I had to come back and make something happen,” Woodyard said.
Woodyard finished the night with 12 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 interception. He had 9 tackles by halftime.
“That’s what he does,” Champ Bailey said. “He’s been making plays all year. Double digit tackles is easy for him. I expect more out of him to be honest with you. I know what he can do. I’ve seen him do it in practice several times. He’s hungry, he’s young, and I love that about him.”
As D.J. Williams’ replacement, Woodyard leads the team in tackles, and he made it his mission to turn Sunday night into his national stage. His teammates, in turn, helped him with that mission.
“My D-line clicked,” Woodyard said. “Before the game they told me that they were going to keep me free, let me go around and make plays. That’s what it’s all about; playing as a team, dedicating yourself to one another.”
The Broncos finally put a full 60-minute game together, and they were finally able to string two wins in a row together.
“I’d say probably without looking at the tape yet, I thought we played 60 minutes,” head coach John Fox said.
“That’s what Coach Fox has been preaching to us about trying to find some consistency,” Manning said. “You sure hope you would be better coming off the bye week. The bye week came at a good time.”
Perhaps though, the bye week was more beneficial to the defense than the offense. Coming in the Saints were ranked 2nd in third down conversions. Sunday night, the Broncos held the Saint to 1-for-12 on third down.
Post bye week, it’s clear that this is a newly polished Broncos team.
Rest has turned out to be work’s sweet sauce, indeed.
It’s evident that the Broncos are the best team in the division, and barring injury, should be able to play well into the winter months.