ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Wings, wind and wild fans.
This is Buffalo on any night. But especially Monday night. The Broncos wandered into this hornet’s nest determined to reframe expectations. They were no longer the team that clumsily fell through their first three home games like a baby giraffe on a frozen pond.
They had horsepower. New sweatsuits. And a frozen focus mindset reflected as players walked into the locker room nearly three hours before kickoff, barely making eye contact with onlookers.
It paid off in a 24-22 victory as Denver snapped a seven-game losing streak on Monday night.
It was easier to appreciate than explain.
It was their first primetime Monday win since 2017. It came with accompanying drama. Wil Lutz missed a 41-yard kick, then got another chance after a penalty for 12 men on the field to win it at the buzzer.
"I wasn't happy with my mindset on that first one. As a kicker you want to be in those situations," Lutz said. "Luckily, I got a mulligan and was able to come through."
After the Bills grabbed a 22-21 lead, thanks to a fortunate fumble and bounce to James Cook on a 42-yard run and a Josh Allen scoot for a score, the Broncos took over with 1:55 remaining.
Russell Wilson completed a pass to Samaje Perine to keep the yard markers moving. What followed next gave the Broncos hope. Wilson badly underthrew Jerry Jeudy. Jeudy recognized it, and came back to the ball. draw an interference call at the 17-yard line. It set up Lutz for the walk off. It was a controversial call as Taron Johnson ran into Jeudy, leading to endless boos by the crowd. But replays clearly showed he crashed into the receiver.
Lutz converted – no easy feat on a night with two botched PATS, one on Lutz and one on a dropped snap by Riley Dixon – for the win.
"This is a good football team we just played. Obviously, the past couple weeks we’ve been playing some really good teams," said Wilson, who completed 24 of 29 passes for 193 yards and posted his fifth game this season with multiple touchdowns and no interceptions. "To beat the Chiefs, to beat these guys, sets the standard of who we should be, who we can be and who we’re going to be."
Added left tackle Garett Bolles with agrin, "I didn't see the penalty. But I felt it. What a big win for us."
The Broncos took command in the fourth. Their offense reduced to a battery of punts in the third, Denver finally put its foot down. Wilson, who played one of his most efficient games in years, engineered a 12-play, 76-yard touchdown drive. It included a flick pass to Samaje Perine to keep the march breathing. And a 3-yard toss to Javonte Williams for the score, shoving Denver ahead 21-15. However, Dixon, who had a forgettable night, botched the snap on the extra point, creating consternation as Buffalo regained possession.
A victory still appeared realistic. Until it almost wasn’t.
The Bills responded with luck. James Cook fumbled, caused by Justin Simmons. The ball bounced backed to him in stride and he raced 42 yards to set up Allen's touchdown.
The Broncos offense responded when it mattered most on winning drive, the second this season, joining the Bears comeback.
"This means the world," Bolles said. "We needed this. Now, we have to build on it."
The Broncos started fast Monday with a defense flying around. Denver produced four takeaways – and has nine over the last two games.
It kept the Bills chasing.
"We blocked the criticism out after our slow start to the season," said safety Justin Simmons. "We were all we had in this locker room. And it's all we needed."
The players, for the most part, arrived in their team-issued matching gray sweatshirts featuring “Broncos 23” on the hoodie. It created a collegiate feel of “Broncos vs. Everybody.” They could not have received a better script from a recently returned to work Hollywood writer.
The Bills won the toss and their much-maligned offense under coordinator Ken Dorsey elected to take the field. It backfired. On the Bills’ first play from scrimmage, before the blue and red face paint could chill to cheeks, Allen fired in the flat to Cook. He fought for extra yardage and Broncos Country’s favorite pirate Ja’Quan McMillian pillaged him. The former East Carolina star raced over and pulled the ball out of Cook’s hands for the takeaway.
Denver’s reaction to the gift possession proved disappointing. Taking over at the Bills’ 28-yard line, the Broncos turned conservative, bailing quickly on the drive after a Mike McGlinchey false start put them off schedule. Denver ran three times, including on third-and-12 with Samaje Perine, settling for a 40-yard Wil Lutz field goal to open the scoring.
Moments later, the Bills found traction before Allen, looking like he was pressing, threw a 95-mph four-seam heater off Gabe Davis’ hands into Simmons’ mitts at the 12-yard line. Denver’s defense showed impressive pressure throughout the first quarter with Zach Allen, Baron Davis and Jonathon Cooper making Allen uncomfortable. The Broncos’ had seven takeaways in five quarters bridging the Chiefs win, matching their total through the first seven games.
The Broncos held a three-point lead early in the second quarter because they had four first downs on their first three drives. In the second quarter, coach Sean Payton’s enthusiasm for the Monday Night spotlight manifested itself with aggression. The Broncos never win road games kicking field goals. On fourth-and-2 from the 7-yard line, after a fake tush push with punter Dixon under center, Wilson took over.
Pressure greeted him on the snap. He twirled and whirled, showing shades of Seattle, and tossed a dime to Courtland Sutton, who delivered one of the most impressive catches of his Broncos career. He tip-toed with left foot and gracefully dragged his right for the reception. Initially called incomplete, it was reversed to a touchdown after replay review, giving a Sutton a career-high seven touchdowns in a season to cap off the best play of Wilson’s Broncos career. It conjured images of Wilson’s cross-the-field, two-point rainbow in an NFC title game against the Packers years ago.
"At some point they are going to starting calling my catches good initially. I knew I was in," said Sutton of a catch that Next Gen Stats gave a 3.2 percent completion probablity, the lowest on a touchdown grab since 2016.
"It’s two of them now. From our bench, it was the same area in the end zone at Kansas City. Obviously, that was a significant play. It was a four-point play, right? That was third down. He has great hands in traffic," Payton said. "We didn’t have a good angle on it, but good play by him.”
Lutz clunked the extra point, leaving Denver with a 9-0 advantage. The Bills awoke from hibernation – their offense has only averaged 20 points over the last month – with a blurry eight-play, 81-yard drive. Allen found rookie Dalton Kincaid home alone in the back of the end zone on a busted coverage for the score.
After a Broncos penalty on the extra point, Buffalo went for two, with Allen connecting with Gabe Davis as he raced in front of Delarrin Turner-Yell. Yell entered as P.J. Locke, Kareem Jackson’s replacement, limped into the locker room and exited to the team bus with a boot on his sprained left ankle. Jackson is not eligible to return from his suspension for repeated unnecessary roughness hits until Tuesday.
The Broncos attempted to deliver a 2-for-1 with their final drive of the half, knowing they would receive the ball to open the third quarter. Effective running north and south, Wilson scrambled 10 yards to set up Lutz’s 49-yard field goal to swell the lead 12-8.
What followed next showed why the Josh Allen experience requires Dramamine. He inexplicably tried to complete a deep out with cornerback Fabian Moreau lurking behind the receiver. The veteran corner delivered the interception – the Bills’ third of the night – as Denver quickly converted a 40-yard kick from Lutz at the halftime buzzer to secure a 15-8 advantage.
Denver could not have played much better in the first 30 minutes. Wilson demonstrated efficiency, completing all but two of his 14 passes, while rushing for 22 yards. The defense not only limited Buffalo to eight first downs but turned the Bills over three times. Allen appeared to be in his own head, exhibit A his force to the sideline into double coverage as Moreau capitalized.
Payton ironed out every wrinkle in preparation, painting Bills logos on the two Centura Health Training Center practice fields, issuing sweatsuits and leaving on Saturday to get appropriate rest. Payton loves Monday Night Football like Dandy Don Meredith once did. He is 18-9 on MNF, his 66.7 percent winning percentage tied with Andy Reid (66.7) for second all-time, behind only Mike Tomlin (84).
The Broncos' chance to put their foot on the Bills' throats arrived in the third. A desperate coach Sean McDermott went for it on fourth-and-3 on his own 48-yard line. Allen fired well above the intended receiver. Denver sputtered, turning the ball over on three downs as Sutton fumbled at the 43-yard line.
Failing to capitalize – or even pin Buffalo back with a punt – proved painful. The Broncos, at this juncture, had six points off three takeaways and a turnover on downs.
Allen finally started to look more like himself on the next drive as Buffalo leaned on the run game. It was surprising the Bills didn't stay on the ground more. Latavius Murray, who led the Broncos in rushing last season, walked in from 3 yards out and the extra point knotted the game at 15 midway through the third quarter as Buffalo produced seven points on its first takeaway.
At that point the Broncos’ second half drives painted a bleak picture when looking to stage an upset: punt, lost fumble, punt and punt.
And yet, they were given a last chance. Everything was going against them — the crowd, the weather, the momentum. This was a game over the last six years that Denver would have lost.
Not this time. Not this team.
"I am going to remember this one for a long time," right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. "This was special."
With his first quarter pick, Justin Simmons boasts 30 interceptions since 2016, the most of any player in the NFL, breaking a tie with Xavien Howard. …
Safety P.J. Locke (ankle) exited in the first half, and the Bills began targeting Delarrin Turner-Yell. Kareem Jackson is eligible to return from his two-game suspension on Tuesday. …
Dorian Williams smashed into Courtland Sutton’s head on a short pass play in the second quarter, resulting in a penalty. Look for Williams to be fined for the unnecessary roughness. …
Broncos sent out four captains for the coin toss – Courtland Sutton, Russell Wilson, Mike McGlinchey, and Riley Dixon. Von Miller helped represent the Bills. He only played with two of the Broncos: Sutton and Dixon. …
No surprises in the inactives on Monday night, save for the elevation of practice squad tight end Lucas Krull for special teams contributor Nate Adkins. The Broncos rank among the worst in pass yardage from the position with Greg Dulcich out, making the rangy Krull and interesting prospect. Dulcich recently visited a specialist regarding his balky hamstring, and coach Sean Payton expects him to play again this season. The inactives were: Safety JL Skinner, LB Ben Niemann, OLB Thomas Incoom, C Alex Forsyth, DL Keondre Coburn, DL Elijah Garcia and TE Nate Adkins. One of these players, possibly Coburn, could be waived to reinstate Kareem Jackson to the active roster on Tuesday.