Broncos report card: Defense’s big-time run continues in win over Buffalo on Monday night

Offense – C+

The Broncos went long stretches where they didn’t do much of anything offensively. They finished with 300 yards on the dot. They turned four turnovers into just six points. They were maddeningly conservative at times. And yet, after Sean Payton drew criticism early in the year for being too impatient, it’s hard to heap blame on him for playing a grind-it-out style here. Especially with a 24-22 win in the bag. Russell Wilson played turnover-free, though he’s got to take fewer hits over the final eight weeks. Denver’s longest rushing play was 11 yards. Here’s the stat that perhaps mattered second-most after the plus-3 turnover differential: 37 minutes, 21 seconds. The Broncos had the ball that long and used it to eke out a critical win.

Defense – A-

Vance Joseph’s group is on some kind of heater. After forcing five turnovers in Week 8 against Kansas City, the Broncos came up with four more against Buffalo on Monday night. A group that looked slow and unathletic early in the year is now playing fast, rallying to the ball and making plays. You’d like to see the group prevent Josh Allen and company from going right down the field and taking the lead with 1:55 to go, but they more than did their part on this night. Four different players came away with takeaways: Safety Justin Simmons, inside linebacker Alex Singleton, nickel Ja’Quan McMillian and corner Fabian Moreau. Two core players and two guys who took over starting roles in recent weeks. Apropos of this group’s turnaround.

Special teams – B

This one could have been an “F” and it could have been an “A.” It was that kind of a night. Two botched extra points and a nullified missed field goal at the buzzer nearly cost the Broncos the game entirely. But a pair of Wil Lutz field goals — the first in a fire-drill situation before halftime — also proved to be the difference. Punter Riley Dixon knocked two punts into the end zone for touchbacks and dropped a snap that cost an extra point. Not great. But rookie receiver Marvin Mims Jr. continued his electrifying return work, taking two punts for 44 yards and a kickoff for 31. He’s already one of the best in the business.

Coaching – B+

The conservative offensive plan can be debated. If Buffalo didn’t have 12 men on the field for Lutz’s missed 41-yarder at the buzzer, Payton would have been fried for ordering Wilson to take a knee on third down, with 24 seconds left and no timeouts, necessitating the field goal unit to run on the field and execute with the game clock winding down. Maybe avoid that one next time anyhow, Sean.

End of the day, though, a 1-5 team is now 4-5 and playing like a group that really, truly believes it can make a run toward the postseason. Payton, Joseph and the rest of the coaching staff deserve credit for getting this team in position to figure it out and grind out a couple of major wins.

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