NEW ORLEANS - Credit this win -- this wildly unexpected and exhilarating victory -- to a childhood ballet class.
“It was about fourth, fifth grade, it was probably about that time I did ballet for about a week,’’ said Denver Broncos' rookie safety Will Parks.
It was grandma Aldo Parks who made him take the class. She couldn't make him return for a second week of classes, though. Imagine what was going on in the living rooms of the Parks' clan in Philadelphia as Will tight-roped -- tiptoed? en pointe as grandma Parks would have put it -- along the left sideline with an extra point blocked kick return for a 2-point conversion that turned what may well have been a tough-luck, 24-23 loss into an improbable, 25-23 victory against the stunned New Orleans Saints here Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“Grandma got it right for this specific moment.,'' Parks said.
And give honor, too, to the all-around athlete who competes not only in his specialized sport of football during high school, but his secondary sports of basketball and track, as well.
“Yeah, I played a little bit of ball in high school,'' said Justin Simmons, another Broncos rookie safety. Where do the Broncos get all these rookie safeties? "Dunks here and there. I just tried to stay healthy though, for football. (Basetball) that’s where it came from, I did a little bit of track, too. High hump, long jump.''
He said he didn't jump high.
"I had terrible technique,'' Simmons said. "I think my highest was 6-4.’’
When it comes to leaping over a center from a two-step start while using the straight-on hurdle technique, 6-foot-4 may as well have been the equivalent of jumping out of the Superdome gym.
A special nod also goes to Broncos' defensive lineman Jared Crick. Playing just off Saints' longsnapper Justin Drescher, Crick put two firm hands on the center's back to prevent the former University of Colorado Buff to raise up while Simmons made his leap. So long as Crick doesn't pull on the longsnapper, it's a legal play. A coordinated, trick-of-the-trade play. But legal.
Kudos also to Broncos' special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis. Is it luck if you practice for the hoped-for result? Multiple times this week, multiple times this season, the Broncos worked on his leap-over-center block attempt. And when it worked, the fiery coach made sure one of his guys returned it. Give props also to DeCamillis for calling it. it's a risky play because if Simmons touches the center, it's a penalty and probably game over.
"Every time we do it (in practice) it’s been successful,'' Simmons said. "So when you get into the game you just want to make sure you follow your rules you do in practice so when you come down to it, it’s just muscle memory. Obviously, the adrenaline helps you get a little bit higher to jump up and block the kick.
“As soon as he (DeCamillis) called it, my heart wouldn’t stop pounding. I was thinking, 'Clear the center, clear the center,' and then put your hands up and hope for the best. For that block to happen and then for the return to happen, that was just special. That was just the will to win the game.’’
To those who still insist the play was lucky, and therefore the Broncos' were fortunate to win, a case can be made the more deserving of the two teams got the break. Considering the odds that were stacked against the Broncos -- their slumping defense, star players Aqib Talib and Derek Wolfe out with injuries, the high-powered Saints' offense led by quarterback Drew Brees -- this was their most inspired game of the season, if not in recent years.
"There are defining moments in your season,'' said Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak. "That's a big one.''
The Broncos are a franchise who once boasted of such safeties as Goose Gonsoulin, Dennis Smith, Steve Atwater, John Lynch, Steve Foley and Brian Dawkins. Never, ever in the Broncos’ proud history have they received such clutch, spectacular play from their safety position as they did here Sunday.
Veteran free safety Darian Stewart played an incredible center field by coming up with two interceptions and a fumble recovery. At the team hotel Saturday, I bumped into Stewart on the elevator.
There was small talk. You're probably in the penthouse suite, he said. (Hardly).
Ready for tomorrow?
"Oh, yeah, I'm looking forward to it,'' Stewart said with genuine enthusiasm.
Asked about the exchange following his great game Sunday, Stewart, who grew up in Alabama and played his college ball at South Carolina, said:“I love playing games down south. All my family can come to the game. I got a chance to play in front of some of my babies (nieces).I’ve got nieces who had never got to see me play.’'
And he wasn’t even the safety hero of the game. Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees had delivered a 32-yard touchdown to Brandin Cooks with 1:22 remaining to tie the score, 23-23.
Kick the extra point and the Saints are up, 24-23. Instead, Simmons leaped over the center and blocked the kick. Parks picked it up at the 16 and ran down the left sideline – but, oh my gosh not quite touching the sideline – for a 2-point conversion.
Parks was close enough to the sideline for Saints' coach Sean Payton to challenge whether he stepped out. Parks' white shoes didn't help as he neared the white chalk. The replay officials looked at it long and hard, but ultimately didn't overturn the conversion.
“I wasn’t tripping at all,'' Parks said of the long replay period. "I sat there with a straight face. Somebody had a camera on me. You can see right then and there I knew I scored. I didn’t step out.’’
About 30 percent of the Superdome crowd that was wearing orange jerseys erupted into cheer.
The win sends the Broncos into their bye week with a 7-3 record, a half-game behind AFC West-leading Kansas City and Oakland, who are both 7-2. The Broncos still have two games against the Kansas City Chiefs -- beginning the week after their bye on Nov. 27, and one more against the Raiders.
The Saints fell to 4-5. Even if it was a difficult way to lose, the Saints can primarily blame their four turnovers -- two interceptions by Brees and two fumbles by receiver Mike Thomas.
Bradley Roby was covering. Demaryius Thomas was one-hand snagging. Left tackle Russell Okung and left guard Max Garcia were road grading. Stewart was intercepting. Gutsy quarterback Trevor Siemian was completing.
Then came a pass by Siemian with 29 seconds left in the first half.
The game had a turning point. The Broncos were up 10-0 and driving from more when Siemian was intercepted. From that moment on through the third quarter, the Saints scored 17 consecutive points.
They were up 17-0 and Brees had the Saints driving for more early in the fourth quarter when his 12th consecutive completion ended with receiver Michael Thomas, losing the ball after it wasl poked out by Roby and into the arms of Stewart.
Another turning point. Stewart’s third takeaway of the game gave Siemian’s offense the ball at the New Orleans’ 27. Siemian, who was harassed all game, held strong and delivered two, first down completions to set up first and goal at the 2. On third down and still at the 2, Siemian lofted a pass to the left corner of the end zone as he got crushed by a Saints’ pass rusher. Demaryius Thomas out-positioned cornerback Delvin Breaux for the ball and the touchdown.
Demaryius Thomas was sensational, making two, one-handed catches among his eight receptions for 87 yards. He seemed to have keen focus for the game.
“You can say that,'' Thomas said. "We wanted to get this game. Coach talked about fight.That’s all we wanted to do, every chance I get try to make a play because I hear all the time, people always talk about how I quit or hot dog and stuff, so ... and then first time in the Superdome, the lights are real bright so whenever I got a chance I made a play.’’
Momentum stayed with the Broncos. Shaq Barrett came through with the Broncos’ first sack and only sack on Brees. Jordan Norwood slithered down the left sideline with a 17-yard punt return.
The Saints started panicking. Their safety Kenny Vacarro belted a scrambling Siemian way late along the Broncos’ bench. Siemain drilled a third-down completion to Norwood to set up first and 10 at the 29 as the clock ticked inside 6 minutes.
As he was hit, Siemian flared a pass to rookie running back Devontae Booker for another first down inside the 20. Siemian's final passer rating of 76.9 wasn't extraordinary because he threw two interceptions. But it doesn't show the enormous courage he displayed while continuously hanging in against a pass rush while delivering. He completed 25 of 40 for 258 yards and two touchdowns. Not bad considered he was sacked six times. He is 7-2 through the first nine games of his career.
The drive stalled and Brandon McManus drilled a 28-yard field goal. Now the Broncos had scored 10 unanswered points for a 20-17 lead with 3:23 remaining.
It was up to the Denver defense to hold Brees and the Saints one more time. A difficult task as Brees bounced back from a poor start, when he was 5 of 11 with two interceptions to go 12 of 12 for 167 yards and two touchdowns during a stretch through the third quarter.
A strong pass rush forced Brees to throw low to an open Mike Thomas. On the next play, Brees completed to Thomas, who juked until Jared Crick, hustling from his defensive end position, smashed him from the blind side, popping the ball loose for another fumble.
“We pride ourselves on that, swarming to the ball, gang tackling,'' Crick said. "I was lucky enough to be in a good position, get a hit on them and fortunate enough to get the ball to pop out. But you see guys like Stew all over the field all game long. It’s kind of a staple of this defense.’’
This time the Broncos scored on their next three possessions and scored 13 consecutive points. They were up 23-17 with 2:50 remaining. Still only one score ahead and plenty of time remaining.
Brees hit Brandin Cooks down the right sideline for a 29-yard gain into Broncos’ territory. The Saints had no more timeouts but at the 2-minute warning, they had third-and-2 at the Broncos’ 38.
Brees calmly picked up the first down with a dump pass to running back Mark Ingram. He then took a shot downfield. Cooks beat Roby on a post pattern. Touchdown.
It was not a game-losing play. Not with the Broncos' rookie safety tandem of Simmons and Parks it wasn't.
“We were talking about the 2-minute plays at that point,'' Siemian said, referring to the hurry-up and score offense. "Prior to that we were taking 4-minute (kill the clock) plays. We were all over the place. It was kind of a crazy, crazy deal there. Kind of disbelief like everybody else when he blocked it first and then running it back what happened to the ball but, you know pretty cool deal.’’
Demaryius Thomas had more catch in him -- recovering the onside kick -- and instead of Siemian having to drive in to field goal range in the final 80 seconds, he only had to take two kneeldowns to clinch it.
"Listen, great individual play by 31 (Justin Simmons) and 34 (Will Parks), their safety, who jumped over and blocked it and then, obviously, the caravan to the end zone,'' Brees said. "Hate to see a game like that come down to just a simple play.''
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