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3 things we learned about the Broncos

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DENVER — Peyton Manning put the Denver Broncos in position to win, and then the defense secured it.

Brandon McManus kicked three field goals, including a 39-yarder with 1:51 remaining, and the Broncos hung on to beat the Minnesota Vikings 23-20 Sunday to remain undefeated.

“You’re going to play in a lot of close games football games and you better know how to win those,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “The thing that I love about the football team is I think it has the belief that it’s going to find a way.”

Manning, shaking off two interceptions, led the Broncos into position for the tie-breaking score with C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman also contributing key runs. Hillman had 103 yards rushing, including a 72-yard touchdown run.

McManus has converted all eight of his field-goal attempts this season, including a 33-yarder and 47-yarder prior to the game winner.

“We’re trying to get it down there as close as we can and put us in touchdown position; if not, make it as short a field goal as possible,” Manning said. “(McManus) has been outstanding. He is kicking with a lot of confidence. It’s great to have him on the team.”

Denver, off to a 4-0 start for the seventh time in franchise history and the second time in the last three years, sealed the win when blitzing safety T.J. Ward ended the last-ditch possession of Minnesota (2-2) at midfield by sacking quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and forcing a fumble that linebacker Von Miller recovered. Bridgewater, who was sacked seven times, previously extended the drive with an 11-yard run on third-and-10.

“I think they’ve got some great rushers,” Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said. “We didn’t block them good enough to win. We didn’t play very well offensively in the first half. I thought we had to get used to the speed of their defense. We didn’t start off very good that way.”

What we learned about the Broncos:

1. A two-man platoon is emerging at halfback for the Broncos, who are making a concerted effort to run the ball more to take some of the pressure off quarterback Peyton Manning. In the 23-20 win over Minnesota on Sunday, C.J. Anderson got the start at running back but shared time with Ronnie Hillman. While Hillman delivered his third career 100-yard rushing game, including a 72-yard touchdown run, Anderson had a pivotal 13-yard run during the Broncos’ drive toward a game-winning field goal. “We’re going to play them both,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “We ask a lot of them, and I think they’re starting to respond. Hopefully, we took a step in the right direction today running the ball.”

2. Some teams like to spread the ball around offensively. In Denver, the sacks are being spread around in what is becoming an exceptional pass rush. Seven players were in on the seven sacks the team registered against the Vikings. Overall, 11 Broncos have at least one sack this season, the most in team history through four games. The previous high was nine players with at least one sacks through the first month of the season in 1984.

3. Denver’s revamped offensive line had some shaky moments but overall held up well. Rookie left tackle Ty Sambrailo missed the game with a shoulder injury, resulting in a shift at two positions. Right tackle Ryan Harris moved to the opposite side to fill in for Sambrailo, and Michael Schofield, seeking his first NFL regular-season snaps, started in Harris’ place on the right side. Though Manning was sacked twice and hurried on other occasions, the line blocked well enough for runners to average 6 yards per carry and for Manning to complete his only touchdown pass of the game on a fourth-down, play-action pass from a yard out.

Etc.

–S T.J. Ward had two of the Broncos’ seven sacks, including a game-clinching strip sack of QB Teddy Bridgewater in the final moments of Denver’s 23-20 win over Minnesota. It was the first multi-sack game of Ward’s career. He also is the lone safety in the league with at least one sack in each of the past five seasons.

–QB Peyton Manning recorded his 100th career victory in a home game, becoming the second player in NFL history to achieve the milestone. He joined Brett Favre, who earned 113 victories in his home starts. Manning finished 17-for-27 for 213 yards with one touchdown passes and two interceptions Sunday.

–TE Owen Daniels had two catches for 9 yards and a touchdown, extending his streak of making least one reception to 107 games. He is tied with Jason Witten for the NFL’s longest active reception streak by a tight end.


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