Broncos pass important test, bouncing back in finale with Vikings
Saturday night was the rubber match. In the Broncos up-and-down preseason, it was the game that would determine if it was a positive or negative stretch.
Not because they were 1-1 heading into the exhibition finale. But because of the way Denver had played in those two games.
Against the Cowboys, the Broncos were good. They followed up a dominant joint practice against Dallas with a solid effort in the preseason game between the two teams.
Last week against the Bills, however, Denver was awful. They seemed totally disinterested in playing, which was followed up by a practice so bad a couple days later that Nathaniel Hackett lost his voice from yelling at his team so much.
The discrepancy between the two performances led to a lot of debate. Which team was the “real” Broncos?
Was Denver as good as they looked against Dallas? Or were they as bad as the played against Buffalo?
Saturday night was going to provide the answer. It wasn’t about what happened on the scoreboard. Instead, it had everything to do with how the Broncos played.
Did they appear interested? Did they fly around? Did they make plays?
On nearly every front, Denver answered the bell. They were very good in a 23-13 victory over Minnesota, ending the preseason on a positive note.
In the game, the Broncos outgained the Vikings 392 yards to 282. That’s impressive, as was their 6.5 yard per play average.
Denver also found a rushing attack. For the first time all season, the Broncos could move the ball on the ground, finishing with 148 yards on 25 carries, an average of 5.9 yards per attempt.
Their defense played fast and aggressive. In the game, they recorded five sacks, forced a fumble and scored a touchdown. That’s the type of playmaking defense that has been missing in the Mile High City since Super Bowl 50.
The Broncos were far from perfect, but they didn’t need to be. Saturday was all about playing a different brand of football. It was all about showing some pride.
Denver did against Minnesota. And their head coach noticed.
“I thought it was good; I thought it really was,” Hackett said about his team’s performance against the Vikings. “I thought you saw some energy. You saw some physicality. I thought they played as one. I thought they played off each other. I thought it was good team complimentary football, and that’s what you’re looking for.”
It was a big step in the right direction. And it was a necessary one.
“We challenged everybody,” Hackett said about his message to the team heading into the game. “And they stepped up.”
That they did. And in the end, it provided a little bit of comfort heading into the regular season.
The Broncos provided hope that their effort against the Bills was an aberration. They made it plausible that it was simply one game, one in which a valuable lesson was learned.
Denver should now know that they can’t just coast into a game and hope to play well. It should be clear that not coming prepared to play will result in them being embarrassed.
They certainly played on Saturday night like they understood that message. The Broncos performance against the Vikings was the perfect salve for a very fresh wound.
No one cared if Denver picked up the win over Minnesota. Sure, it was nice to get a victory; but that wasn’t the main objective.
Instead, it was about responding to adversity. It was about their first-year head coach being able to strike the right chord to motivate his team. It was about players stepping up and seizing their opportunity.
Plenty fell into that category. It was a good night for a lot of Broncos on the bubble, as they showed they can play in the NFL, whether it’s in Denver or somewhere else.
McTelvin Agim, Nik Bonitto and Delarrin Turner-Yell were three of the standouts on defense. Seth Williams, Jalen Virgil Devin Ozigbo shined on offense.
But their glossy stats weren’t really the point of the night. They were a byproduct of what was important.
The good showings were the result of the way the Broncos played. They came about because Denver got back to playing fast and physical.
Hackett drilled that point home all week. It clearly connected with his players. And that was a good thing.
“But that no excuse for what happened,” the head coach said after the game, still unhappy about how Denver played in Buffalo. “We have to do that consistently throughout the season.”
That’s one question the Broncos haven’t answered in the preseason. It’s now known that they can play well. And it’s been proven that they can respond after a bad performance. But can they play great on a week in, week out basis? That remains to be seen.
Bigger answers are yet to come. But in a semi-important preseason game, some early returns were provided. And once again, there’s reason to feel positive in Broncos Country.