DENVER (AP) — The Denver Broncos have found success again — with backup quarterback Brett Rypien steering the offense.
Next step, try to get back on the winning track with Russell Wilson running the show.
Although Wilson passed the league's concussion protocols, he was a spectator (a precautionary move) as the Rypien-led Broncos rallied for a 24-15 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Rypien finished with pedestrian numbers — 197 yards passing, one touchdown, one interception — but helped the Broncos (4-10) snap a five-game skid in front of a sparse crowd that included an announced 18,423 no-shows.
Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett has already proclaimed Wilson as the starter when the team travels to Los Angeles to face the Rams on Sunday. Wilson sustained a concussion on a head-first dive into several defenders at the goal line following a scramble against Kansas City on Dec. 11.
This will be another nationally televised game, too, for a team that has struggled this season in front of a national audience.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s on national television or if it’s not," said Hackett, whose team recorded its first victory since Oct. 30 in London against Jacksonville. “It’s about us being able to execute, going out there and doing some good things.”
They founds ways to execute against the Cardinals (4-10) — in the second half, anyway.
After a stagnant Broncos offense surrendered six first-half sacks — including three by pass rusher J.J. Watt — the Broncos switched tactics after halftime. They utilized assorted quick passes in an effort to neutralize Watt and his defensive colleagues. Denver surrendered one sack in the second half.
What also worked was this: Turning to 32-year-old running back Latavius Murray, who rushed for 130 of Denver’s 168 yards behind a banged-up offensive line. Marlon Mack contributed on the ground, too, scoring a go-ahead TD in the third quarter as the Broncos reeled off 21 straight points to take control.
“You can’t get bored with 3-yard runs, 2-yard runs," said Murray, who received a game ball for his performance, which included a 10-yard touchdown. “It’s easy to get discouraged. You have to trust it. It’s a mentality. You have to believe in it and those big ones will come. That was a big part of it, too. We trusted the run game and that opened up the rest of the offense.”
A top-notch defense only got stronger with the return of pass rusher Randy Gregory from a knee injury. The Broncos had three sacks and three interceptions, including two by safety Justin Simmons and another by Pat Surtain II.
Cardinals quarterback Colt McCoy — who's filling in for the rest of the season for Kyler Murray (ACL) — left with a concussion after diving for a first down. McCoy's replacement, Trace McSorley, was 7 of 15 for 95 yards and two interceptions.
Arizona finished 2 of 12 on third-down attempts.
“The defense is crazy (good),” said receiver Jerry Jeudy, who had seven catches for 76 yards. “Just crazy good.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The dinged-up offensive line had right guard Quinn Meinerz leave with an eye injury early in the game. His backup, Tom Compton, later exited with a back ailment.
“This game is tough,” said guard Dalton Risner, who briefly left with a left arm ailment. "You have to be able to enjoy every single win, I don’t care what your record is at. For us to put it together this week and get a win like that, that’s really big for us so we’re going to enjoy it.”
There are plenty of candidates, with the lean going to Simmons after his two-interception afternoon. He now has 26 career interceptions.
“It has been a weird year, but my confidence never wavers,” Simmons said. “I have a bunch of great guys in the locker room that are always confident in my abilities and what I can do. I have the utmost confidence in myself.”
Defensive lineman DeShawn Williams had a big game, too, with 2 1/2 sacks.
“I wanted a hat trick, and I wanted to get (AFC) Defensive Player of the Week," Williams said. “I think they might give it to Justin.”
Brandon McManus connected from 52 yards, but was wide right from 38. On his Twitter account after the game, he summed up his feelings on missing the short kick and concluded his post with “terrible.”
Outside of Meinerz and Compton, the only other injury Hackett mentioned after the game was to cornerback Darius Phillips (hamstring).
10-1-1 — Denver extended its all-time record in the regular season to 10-1-1 over the Cardinals. That includes a 6-0 mark at home.
Travel to Los Angeles to face the Rams for a game on Christmas.
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