BRON­COS NOT PRETTY BUT BEAT JAGUARS

BRON­COS 20 • JAGUARS 10

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Nicki Jhab­vala The Den­ver Post

Bron­cos happy to win on a day their o≠ense has just 206 yards

Pick-six play from Roby helps Den­ver over­come its 11 punts

JACK­SONVILLE, FLA.» Sta­cie Lynch sat in Sec­tion 244 be­hind the corner of the south end zone at EverBank Field, her hands clasped in front of her face and her fur­rowed brow shielded by sun­glasses. She could not and would not wear a No. 12 jersey with her last name stamped across the back, out of fear of tip­ping off the scream­ing fans who sur­rounded her.

“This is hard,” she said Sun­day as her son, Pax­ton, trot­ted onto the field. “I’m sick right now.”

So Sta­cie sat. Anony­mous and still. And she hoped — hoped that Pax­ton’s se­cond NFL start would end much dif­fer­ently than his first, as he filled in for in­jured Bron­cos quar­ter­back Trevor Siemian against the Jaguars.

It did. But it was far from pretty.

Keyed by three de­fen­sive take­aways, the Bron­cos held on to de­feat the Jaguars 20-10 — bol­ster­ing their play­off stand­ing and giv­ing their rookie quar­ter­back his first vic­tory as a starter.

“Well, he got his first win. That’s what I feel best about,” Bron­cos coach Gary Ku­biak said of Lynch, a first-round draft pick from Mem­phis. “Didn’t turn the ball over, which we knew would be huge here. I’m not sure we helped him much in the se­cond half. … But we came in here and did what we needed to do to win.”

Lynch had no turnovers — his top pri­or­ity in a crit­i­cal road game — but the Den­ver of­fense mus­tered only 206 yards and was just 1-of-13 on third-down con­ver­sions. He fin­ished 12-of-24 pass­ing for 104 yards, zero touch­downs and a 61.8 passer rat­ing.

“I’d say Pax­ton was de­cent. He didn’t play his best game,” said Den­ver cor­ner­back Chris Har­ris. “He didn’t have any turnovers. I’ll give him an A for not hav­ing any turnovers.”

The game brought res­o­lu­tion to some of the

Bron­cos’ is­sues af­ter their over­time loss to Kansas City in Den­ver last week — namely, the dis­cov­ery of a punt re­turner and a strong close-out by the de­fense. But other is­sues re­main. No mat­ter the quar­ter­back, the Bron­cos have been un­able to shake their slow starts. With Lynch at the helm, the Bron­cos planned to use him more in the shot­gun for­ma­tion and em­pha­size the run­ning game. But he was put in a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion to start as the ground game stalled.

Luck­ily for the Bron­cos, they played a team that en­tered on a nine-game slide and sat at the bot­tom of the NFL in most of­fen­sive cat­e­gories be­hind quar­ter­back Blake Bor­tles. The Jaguars could eas­ily match and ex­ceed Den­ver’s of­fen­sive woes. And they did Sun­day.

The teams com­bined for seven punts to start, mak­ing for a for­get­table first quar­ter. Although the Jaguars ended that streak with a 47-yard field goal, they keyed a turn­around for Den­ver with a rough­ing the passer penalty on third down in the se­cond quar­ter. The free first down al­lowed Den­ver run­ning back Kapri Bibbs to bust loose for 37 yards on two car­ries and set up a 6-yard touch­down run by De- von­tae Booker — who was pulled into the end zone by left tackle Rus­sell Okung, with no penalty called.

The Bron­cos took a 7-3 lead they would ex­tend but never re­lin­quish, de­spite a nail-bit­ing fin­ish.

Jack­sonville stayed in it be­cause of Den­ver’s of­fen­sive in­ef­fi­ciency. But the Jaguars re­mained out of it be­cause of their own mis­cues and Den­ver’s big de­fen­sive plays.

“Ob­vi­ously there are things I need to cor­rect,” Lynch said. “I know a cou­ple of deep balls, I should have given (our re­ceivers) a chance to catch but I didn’t. But they’re a great de­fense.”

Den­ver’s de­fen­sive takeover started with Har­ris, who picked off a deep pass by Bor­tles in the se­cond quar­ter and re­turned the in­ter­cep­tion 36 yards. That was fol­lowed by a pick-six play from fel­low cor­ner­back Bradley Roby mid­way through the third quar­ter. Out­side line­backer Von Miller pres­sured Bor­tles on the pass at­tempt that Roby picked off and re­turned 51 yards for a touch­down.

The Bron­cos (8-4) sealed their vic­tory with a fum­ble recovery by Shane Ray, af­ter Miller forced the ball from Bor­tles. That set up a 41-yard field goal by Bran­don McManus in the fi­nal half minute. They moved ahead of Mi­ami (7-5) in the AFC wild-card race.

“They were ex­cep­tional,” Ku­biak said of his de­fen­sive play­ers. “We knew com­ing in here that we needed to play great de­fense and win the turnover bat­tle, win the field-po­si­tion bat­tle.”

Last week, the de­fense blamed it­self for the loss to Kansas City af­ter a penalty-rid­den fourth quar­ter that al­lowed the Chiefs to storm back and force over­time. This week the de­fen­sive play­ers wanted to re­gain their rep­u­ta­tion as closers.

“The main fo­cus all week was fin­ish­ing strong and make sure we played great sit­u­a­tional foot­ball,” Har­ris said. “I felt like we ex­e­cuted great. This is how we usu­ally fin­ish games. We usu­ally fin­ish the game off a turnover, and we were able to do that.”

The main fo­cus this com­ing week? Mo­bi­liz­ing the of­fense, no mat­ter who’s lead­ing it.

At the fi­nal whis­tle Sun­day, Lynch re­moved his hel­met, shook a few hands and then jogged back to the Bron­cos’ locker room, know­ing his per­for­mance was far from what he had hoped. He got what he came for — a win — but not much else.

In Sec­tion 244, Sta­cie Lynch just sat — her hands still clasped, her cardi­gan still shad­ing the Bron­cos logo on her shirt and her eyes still hid­den be­hind her glasses.

That was hard, she would prob­a­bly say. But it was a vic­tory.

Bron­cos out­side line­backer Shane Ray, left, cel­e­brates his fum­ble recovery dur­ing the fourth quar­ter Sun­day in Jack­sonville, Fla. The fum­ble was caused on a tremen­dous play by Von Miller, right, who forced Jaguars quar­ter­back Blake Bor­tles to fum­ble by push­ing an of­fen­sive line­man into him. John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

Bron­cos out­side line­backer Von Miller, far left, runs over Jack­sonville Jaguars of­fen­sive tackle Kelvin Beachum dur­ing the third quar­ter Sun­day to force a hit on Jaguars quar­ter­back Blake Bor­tles. The hit caused the ball to go up in the air and was in­ter­cepted by Bron­cos cor­ner­back Bradley Roby, who re­turned it 51 yards for a touch­down. John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

Bron­cos cor­ner­back Chris Har­ris looks up­field af­ter his in­ter­cep­tion of a pass by Jack­sonville Jaguars quar­ter­back Blake Bor­tles dur­ing the se­cond quar­ter Sun­day. John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

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