ARLINGTON, Texas — Funny how it works sometimes when teams lose star players. Von Who?
Or in the case of the Dallas Cowboys, isn't it strange how a team comes out flat when it gets its star player back. Whatever happened to Dak?
The Broncos traded away Von Miller, their biggest superstar, to the Los Angeles Rams on Monday in return for draft picks. The Cowboys, meanwhile, won a big game on the road last week with their backup quarterback, Cooper Rush, and returned their star quarterback, Dak Prescott, this week for the game against the Broncos.
It was such a lopsided flip of haves and have nots, the oddsmakers made the 6-1 Cowboys a whopping, 10-point favorite against the 4-4 Broncos.
Naturally, the Broncos ripped the Cowboys, 30-16 here Sunday before a sold-out crowd beneath the roof-closed AT&T Stadium.
A good 20 percent to 25 percent of the Dallas stadium crowd roared when the Broncos made positive plays. The vocal minority had much to cheer about. How did the Broncos overcome so many distractions to play arguably their best game in the three-year Fangio era?
“It’s one of those deals where in this league, so many things happen,'' Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, whose unflappable nature was the perfect antidote to the week of distractions, said in a postgame interview with 9News. "Sometimes you question things. Sometimes you just understand it’s all business. With Von being traded it’s one of those deals where guys were like, 'Hey man, this is an opportunity for other guys to step up. We’ve got so many young guys who were making plays and Von did a great job of teaching some of these young guys here what’s it’s like to be a pro.
"Today and last week with these guys making plays off the edge, was somewhat of a product of Von paying it forward to the young guys. We wish Von the best, but these young guys today, a lot of them made plays and guys have been making plays when their number’s called.”
PHOTOS | Denver Broncos at Dallas Cowboys
Miller missed his final game with the Broncos last week, a win against Washington, because of an ankle injury, so the Broncos begin Life Without Von at 2-0.
“There’s no way this team will ever surrender,'' Broncos' 7th-round rookie outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper said in his postgame interview with 9News. "I don’t think that’s in our vocabulary.
"What went into the Von trade, I don’t know about that but the morale of the team, it was sad. You hate to see a player like that go. But with the other leaders we have on this team, they corralled together and said we still have to keep going. Don’t dwell on stuff and let’s keep riding and see what we can do.
"It’s just us. We have each other’s backs. Even if the whole world is counting us out, we’re not going to count ourselves out. We’re going to rely on each other to do that.”
This wasn't just an upset Broncos win. This was a butt-kicking. The Broncos were up 30-0 until Prescott threw two short, garbage-time touchdown passes to Malik Turner in the final 4 minutes.
And so it goes in sports.
“That’s why they play the game,'' said Broncos head coach Vic Fangio, whose hot seat from a couple weeks ago is now a comfortable room temperature, told 9News after the game.
Without Miller, the Denver D stepped up and stopped the mighty Cowboys’ offense (459 yards and 32 points per game) on downs in each of their first two series. Denver’s defense stopped a fourth-and-1 running attempt by star running back Ezekiel Elliott from the Broncos’ 38 on the game-opening drive, and Prescott, who misfired all day in his return from a calf injury, badly underthrew a fourth-and-2 attempt from the Denver 20.
“First, I think you have to give Denver credit,'' said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy. "They came in there, they had tremendous adversity they faced coming into this game. Had concern Wednesday, as far as how we’ve come off some successful weeks and the message was ‘don’t take the cheese’, and frankly we were out-coached, we were out-played, all the way through. This is the first time I’ve felt clearly our energy didn’t exceed our opponent, and that’s disappointing.
"They came in aggressively. If you look at the way their defense played us form the start, they challenged our receivers, they challenged the box, they clearly were going to take away the run and put it on the passing game, and we didn’t respond to that. Their run offense was significant, particularly runs after contact. We just weren’t the more physical team today. And I give them a lot of credit.”
Those two, fourth-down stops put the game on the upset alert.
“Our guys just played with a lot of will., a lot of aggressiveness, a lot of assertiveness,'' Fangio said. "And we went out there with the right mindset to win that football game.’’
The Broncos offense responded with touchdowns on their next two drives – a 3-yard run by Melvin Gordon III and a perfect 44-yard heave from Bridgewater to Tim Patrick, who warded off the great cornerback Trevon Diggs for the catch. Heavy run on their first touchdown series; Bridgewater passing highlighted the second touchdown series.
How about that Pat Shurmur play-calling?
All this despite nervous concern in the hours leading up to the game. Backup quarterback Drew Lock was placed in the COVID-19 protocols Sunday morning after he tested positive for the virus, league sources told 9NEWS.
Lock, who is vaccinated, learned Saturday evening upon the team landing in Dallas that a close personal contact to him (not team-related) had tested positive for COVID-19. Lock informed the team, then was administered tests Saturday night and Sunday morning. After those tests, it was determined Lock had tested positive and was placed in isolation.
So there went the Broncos’ backup QB for their game against the Cowboys. While it’s clear the Broncos have a COVID-19 issue, it could have been worse. This is where it became a nervous situation for the Broncos: after Lock tested positive, the Broncos worked through their close contacts and Bridgewater was flagged for a test Sunday morning.
“I was a little worried,'' Bridgewater said. "This morning wasn’t ideal. Wasn’t an ideal Sunday morning. You take a test and then there’s an error with the test. Ahh, what’s going on?
"But I got the green light, then had to rush out and go warm up and everything, but I’m happy I was able to play today. We’ll take the right measures moving forward with everything with Drew when he returns, but great to come away with a victory today.”
Wait a minute. There was an error with his test? Did he test positive, only to retake it and have it come back negative?
“No, I guess my results got scrambled up or something like that and they just had to run ‘em again and I was good,'' Bridgewater said. "They gave me the green light and I proceeded with caution.”
Two more starting offensive lineman, right tackle Bobby Massie and right guard Graham Glasgow, went down with ankle injuries in the first half and didn't return. Left guard Dalton Risner missed the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury. Increduously, the Broncos finished the game with only one starting offensive lineman -- center Lloyd Cushenberry III.
Yet, the Broncos' running back duo of Javonte Williams (111 yards) and Melvin Gordon III (80 yards) combined for a season-best 191 yards rushing while passed for another 249.
9NEWS caught up with Glasgow as he was getting carted from the locker room to the bus, his left ankle in a cast. It's fractured, which history says means he'll miss at least six weeks, and it could be more depending on the type of break.
“It’s not great, but at least we won,'' Glasgow said in true all-for-the team spirit of an offensive lineman. "This was a really good win for our team. I’m happy we were able to go out there and show we’re better than people thought.”
Rookie cornerback Pat Surtain II (knee), Risner (shoulder) and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (knee) also left with injuries.
And did we say Von was traded away and there were a shaky couple hours when they thought Lock and Bridgewater might be taken out by COVID?
Yet Fangio, the no-longer Broncos’ beleaguered head coach and offensive coordinator Shurmur had their team ready to play its best game.
“It was a pretty uncomfortable morning for a little bit,'' Fangio said. "I thought it was going to be Kendall Hinton No. 2 and we wouldn’t be having this same conversation.
"But our guys have been great all week. We all paid tribute to Von which he deserved. We miss him. We’re rooting for him, hope he does well out there. But this is the Denver Broncos and this is what we are moving forward.”
Special teams failed the Broncos as they allowed a 54-yard return on the game-opening kickoff and McManus missed his first extra point of the season, and a 53-yard field goal. Broncos punter Sam Martin also had a punt blocked, although nothing said this was Denver's day than the fact it strangely kept the ball.
Yet, it was by far the Broncos’ best first quarter of the season and best game since at least December 2019 when they jumped to a 38-3 lead on playoff-bound Houston.
Dallas’ defense was supposedly much improved stopping the run as it only allowed 88.3 rushing yards per game entering Sunday, but the Broncos on their first touchdown drive got 50 on eight carries from Williams and Gordon. Gordon finished their first scoring drive with a 3-yard touchdown drive. McManus missed the extra point.
On their next drive, Williams got the Broncos’ running game going again with a 17-yard burst around left end. Bridgewater then hit Patrick for 11 yards to convert a third-and-10 and on the next play delivered the setup with the 44-yard strike down the left sideline for the touchdown. It was 13-0 Broncos.
Later in the half, McManus delivered redemption with a 53-yard field goal that gave Denver a 16-0 lead.
It didn't hurt that the Broncos got a huge break early in the second half. Martin had his punt blocked deep in Denver territory, but it bounced forward and a Cowboy muffed the bounce beyond the line of scrimmage.
Broncos special teamer Jonas Griffith alertly picked up the ball after the Cowboy muff. Broncos ball. A sensational, tackle-breaking, 30-yard by Williams and a 20-yard completion from Bridgewater to Jeudy helped set up a short field goal by McManus for a 19-0 lead midway through the third quarter.
Bridgewater, Gordon and Williams, along with Fangio's best-coached defense in his three seasons as head coach, took care of the fourth quarter. Bridgewater came through with a huge third-and-14 pass across the middle to Kendall Hinton, who caught it and ran 40 yards to set up first and goal at the 3.
Bridgewater wound up reaching over from the 1 for the touchdown, then scrambled and hit Courtland Sutton for a 2-point conversion to make it 27-0.
Bridgewater finished 19 of 28 for 249 yards with a touchdown for a 107.6 passer rating while Prescott, obviously rusty from missing the past two weeks with a calf injury and victimized by receiver drops, was a putrid 8 of 23 for 102 yards with an interception and embarrassing 31.4 rating as the Broncos built a 30-0 lead with less than 7 minutes remaining.
Prescott got some decent garbage-time stats and finished 19 of 39 for 232 yards with a touchdown to go along with his interception, lifting his rating to 73.9.
Williams led all rushers with 111 yards off 17 carries. Gordon added 80 yards on 21 carries.
Patrick had four catches for a team-high 85 yards while Jeudy added six catches for 69 yards.
And oh by the way, rookie Jonathan Cooper, the new left outside linebacker in place of Von Miller? He had 2.0 sacks. No Von? No problem. Jonathon Cooper is here.
“Let’s not say that,'' Cooper said with an embarrased laugh. "No, I owe Von a lot. No, I wouldn’t say that.”
The Broncos are now 5-4 entering their game next Sunday against the 3-5 Philadelphia Eagles at Empower Field at Mile High. Now it's the Broncos' turn to not take their opponent lightly.
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