DENVER (AP) — Backup quarterback Brett Rypien led the Denver Broncos to their first win since October.
His reward: A seat back on the bench. This is, after all, Russell Wilson's show and he'll be back under center next week.
Rypien made the most of his third career start as he overcame relentless pressure from a J.J. Watt-led Arizona defense to help the Broncos hold off the Cardinals 24-15 on Sunday.
“Really, the whole goal is just to try to find a way to win and to do that I just feel like we accomplished something great,” Rypien said. “It’s awesome.”
The game featured two backup QBs, but Arizona lost Colt McCoy to a concussion early in the third quarter after he hit his head while diving for a first down. McCoy was intercepted once and his replacement, Trace McSorley, threw two more picks. McCoy will enter the league's concussion protocol.
“It’s tough," McSorley said. “You never want to see someone go down.”
Rypien was sacked seven times, including three by Watt, but directed three second-half scoring drives to help the Broncos (4-10) snap a five-game losing streak.
Latavius Murray ran for 130 yards and a touchdown, Marlon Mack also had a rushing TD, and Rypien threw a short scoring pass — after a well-disguised fake — to Eric Tomlinson as Denver turned a 9-3 deficit into a 24-9 lead.
The Denver defense was led by Justin Simmons, who had two interceptions and helped hold the Cardinals to 2 of 12 on third downs.
“We’ve been in so many games against a bunch of very good football teams. We had another choice today," first-year Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said. “We were down 9-3 and those guys had another choice. They stepped up.”
Subbing for Wilson, who was held out for safety reasons after clearing the concussion protocol, Rypien had 197 yards passing and one interception. McCoy took over for Kyler Murray, who's out for the season with a torn ACL. McCoy was 13 of 21 for 78 yards and was picked off by Simmons late in the first quarter.
The Cardinals managed three early field goals by former Bronco Matt Prater. James Conner had a late TD run but a 2-point pass was broken up. The Cardinals (4-10) have dropped four straight and were eliminated from playoff contention.
“It sucks,” Watt said. “You’re playing for the future and it’s a (expletive) place to be with three games left. But that’s what it is."
Added Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury: "They continue to show up and play hard. That’s all you can ask.”
Mack gave the Broncos a 10-9 lead with a 3-yard run with 5:58 remaining in the third quarter. Murray extended the lead to 17-9 with a 10-yard scamper and Rypien's TD pass sealed the win. Plenty of paying customers weren't on hand to see it: There were 18,423 no-shows for a game between struggling teams with both coaches on the hot seat.
In the first half, the Broncos had no answers for Watt, who also had three quarterback hits, three tackles for loss, a pass defensed and a forced fumble.
“You know, 99 (Watt) was a problem, flat out,” Rypien said. “He came to play.”
The Broncos altered their game plan in the second half, turning to quick screens to neutralize Watt.
“The second half was obviously very different," Watt said.
In addition to Wilson, Denver's patchwork offense was missing receivers Courtland Sutton and Kendall Hinton (both with pulled hamstrings). The Broncos also lost right guard Quinn Meinerz to an eye injury early in the game.
Wilson wore a hat and a thick jacket as he walked the sideline. He held a play sheet in his hand and frequently consulted with Rypien when the backup returned to the sideline. The Broncos have already been eliminated from the postseason.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where you’re not going to be around very long, even if you have a great career,” Rypien said. "There’s always something to play for. I think that attitude has never changed in our locker room. We’ve got guys that want to go out there, want to play hard and want to win every single game.”
Cardinals: OL Kelvin Beachum was banged up on the same play as McCoy, leaving with a knee/ankle injury before returning.
Broncos: Meinerz held a towel over his right eye as he left the field. Meinerz's replacement, Tom Compton, later departed with a back injury.
Latavius Murray turns 33 in January but is performing like a younger running back. He was signed by Denver in October.
“The hardest part was knowing that I still could contribute — to whoever that was,” Murray said.
Cardinals: Host Tom Brady and Tampa Bay next Sunday.
Broncos: At the Los Angeles Rams next Sunday, where Hackett said Wilson will start.
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