BRONCOS NOT PRETTY BUT BEAT JAGUARS
BRONCOS 20 • JAGUARS 10
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