DENVER — Peyton Manning remains a reminder of everything that was right with the Broncos. The national appeal, the prime time games, the merciless accountability, and the wins.
Lots of wins.
Manning delivered 50 victories in four seasons, his Super Bowl 50 walk-off serving as his crowning achievement. Sunday, Manning entered the Broncos Ring of Fame, a reminder of what was and hopefully what will be again someday.
In a clunky, yet spirited performance, the Broncos extended the warranty on their season with a 17-10 victory over the Washington Football Team at Empower Field at Mile High.
"It was a different set of energy in the locker room," quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. "The fire was lit."
Melvin Gordon powered the win with two touchdowns — he also had an awful fumble late — and a stingy defense threw its fists with Justin Simmons (two interceptions) and Dre'Mont Jones and Shelby Harris.
Ding, dong, trick or treaters. The streak is dead. The Broncos avoided a winless October that threatened to unravel the season. The hard part remains with their schedule, but hope is flickering again.
The victory came with unnerving drama. Appearing to seal the win with Simmons' pick with 49 seconds left, Gordon fumbled with 23 seconds left, recovered at the 24-yard line.
"The defense had my back," Gordon said.
Taylor Heinicke's last second heave went incomplete to seal the victory. It was more of a sense of relief, it seemed.
"It was awful (way to end)," said coach Vic Fangio, who is now 4-8 in his last 12 home games. "It was a terrible, terrible series of downs."
The loudest cheers Sunday arrived when Manning walked to the podium for his Ring of Fame speech. There was brevity in clarity as he thanked the organization and fans then threw a 30-yard touchdown to good friend Brandon Stokley.
It appeared that many fans left after the ceremony, perhaps getting a jump on trick or treating. Many decided not to come in the first place, a reflection of the bad, boring team the Broncos have been during their four-game losing streak. There were 11,755 no-shows, the most since 19,094 at the end of the 2019 season.
The sense of urgency, preached all week, revealed itself among the players even as the lacking offensive execution drew boos on multiple series.
Gordon helped Denver snap the skid with a 7-yard run in the fourth. And Simmons created more certainty with a pick with 49 seconds remaining. Then came the last incompletion. And an exhale.
"Great defenses figure it out," said Shelby Harris part of a team with five sacks. "We controlled are destiny at the end."
Added Simmons, "We didn't flinch. I was really proud of our guys."
It was more Etch-A-Sketch than Michelangelo. But the Broncos were not apologizing.
Outscored 61-20 in the first half during the losing skid, the Broncos held a 10-3 lead at the break.
Bridgewater, the Broncos' 10th starter since Manning retired, showed improvement for Denver. He insisted it wasn't time to panic — a fact disputed among teammates — but produced a touchdown pass to Gordon with 1:11 remaining in the second quarter.
For Bridgewater, the march brought back reminders of Septembers when he was among the NFL's most efficient passers. He completed all four of his passes for 68 yards. He finished 19 for 25 for 213 yards and a touchdown.
The defense finally made plays promised in August. The streak of first drive touchdowns mercifully ended at three straight games. Simmons broke up a fourth-down pass at the 19-yard line, reacting with fervor. He also intercepted a pass for only the Broncos' second takeaway in five games. He followed with another at the end.
Later in the first half, Harris blocked a field goal for the second straight week and Stephen Weatherly snuffed out a scoring drive with a sack in his first game as a Bronco.
This is what fans wanted to see — passion, intensity, ferocity. Unfortunately, it came spliced with offensive inefficiency.
It leaves no margin for error. Clinging to a seven-point lead, the Broncos' defense faltered. Washington produced a 94-yard drive, its longest of the season. Heinicke connected on a beautiful 20-yard fade for a score to DeAndre Carter.
Tied at 10, the Broncos began percolating — it included a late hit by Washington's Jamin Davis on Bridgewater — then fizzled with a fumbled snap, near pick and a wild scramble.
Brandon McManus entered a perfect 13-for-13 on the season. He shoved it wide right from 53 yards with 10:57 remaining.
Washington countered with a drive into field goal range. However, Blewitt blew it again. His second kick was blocked, this one by Jones. Jones had a breakout game with 1.5 sacks.
It set up Gordon's darting run up the middle that ended the madness, but not before the last minute chaos. Broncos have not answered many questions during their 4-4 start. Save for this: They can beat bad teams — the Giants, Jaguars, Jets, and now Washington.
"Our backs are against the wall," Gordon said. "We changed a lot of things with our demeanor, our attitude towards practice to go out here and get that W."
There is no defining victory this season, like so many relished under Manning. But it was a win, one that keeps the season relevant into next week.
"Our message was energy and urgency. And I thought we had that," Simmons said. "You can't talk about it. You just have go to do it. And we did enough to win."
Broncos no shows were 11,755. That number is significant. And must be monitored as coaching decisions percolate. ...
All-Pro left tackle Garett Bolles suffered an ankle injury late in the fourth quarter. He attempted to return to the locker room, but had to sit because of the pain. ...
Cornerback Bryce Callahan hyperextended his left knee and there's hope it wasn't as serious as it looked. ...
Malik Reed on the five sacks, including his two. "We were able to let our hair down a little bit," Reed said. ...
After an awful showing last Thursday, Kenny Young started with Baron Browning at linebacker, both new. Justin Strnad entered on the second play. Browning, a rookie, had the green dot on his helmet for the play calls. Browning played well following a shaky first drive. ...
Broncos gameday captains were Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Brandon McManus and Von Miller, though Von was obviously not in uniform. He was inactive.