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In The Cards. Broncos snap five-game losing streak with impressive second half

Murray leads way on ground, Simmons delivers two INTs
Cardinals Broncos Football
Posted at 5:03 PM, Dec 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-19 11:32:40-05

DENVER — Before the game Justin Simmons found the sign, and knew what came next.

Simmons jogged over to the sideline, and began tossing the ball into the stands to the boy holding the "All I Want For Christmas Is to Play Catch With Justin S. No. 31" cardboard placard.

The other 56,757 fans who wandered into Empower Field at Mile High sought something more difficult: the Broncos' first home win since Sept. 25 and first victory of any kind since Oct. 30.

"It feels great. This team has had a lot of adversity this year, both through the injuries, through the close games and it has been great to see them all stick together, fight for each other and continually battle. We have so many games against a bunch of very good football teams. We had another choice today. We were down 9-3. Those guys had another choice, and they stepped up even more," said coach Nathaniel Hackett.

"The defense, special teams and offense. That is what you love to see. That is what I appreciate from this team watching them out there.”

Led by Simmons' two interceptions and a rugged ground attack, Denver delivered, snapping their five-game losing streak with a convincing 24-15 triumph over the spiraling Arizona Cardinals.

Cringe turned cool in the second half as the Broncos scored touchdowns in three of four drives during one stretch, opening up a 24-9 lead with 9:33 remaining.

Latavius Murray played a huge role, becoming the first Broncos' running back to eclipse 100 yards this season. He was also responsible for 10 first downs and 86 rushing yards in the second half.

“I was messing around and talking with (GM) George Paton [about my age]. If I don’t acknowledge the good genes that I have. I have to appreciate my mom and dad for blessing me with this body, but I continue to take care of it. This game means a lot to me and as I was sitting home in September, I didn’t know whether or not I would be able to get a call and play. The hardest part was knowing that I could still contribute. For me, it’s just taking advantage — taking care of my body, taking advantage, and still getting to play the game that I love," Murray said.

"As long as I feel that I can contribute, I’ll be sitting up here again.”

Trailing 9-3 in the third quarter, incompetence that explains the 18,423 no shows, the second highest total in 11 years, the Broncos clumsy offense regained balance.

Brett Rypien leaned on the offense's best two players over the last month: Jerry Jeudy and Murray. Jeudy kept the Cardinals honest, and Murray chugged for 46 yards to set up Marlon Mack's 3-yard score.

Because it's the Broncos nothing comes easily. With a chance to Zip-Lock the game on the following drive, Rypien fired an interception to Budda Baker at the goal line, costing a field goal opportunity.

The line decimated by injuries, the Bronco showed resolve and toughness, cobbling together a 56-yard scoring march, capped by Murray's 10-yard burst.

Denver finished off Arizona moments later on a beautifully designed goal-line play from Rypien to tight end Eric Tomlinson. The 24 points ranked second behind only last week's 28, providing slivers of hope over the final month of playing spoiler. Rypien finished 21 of 26 for 197 yards.

"When we can stay ahead of the chains and keep ourselves at manageable down and distances, I think we could be a really good offense. Ultimately, we have a bunch of rookies playing out there — a bunch of young guys," said Rypien, who is 2-1 as a starter in his career. "I know you don’t like to have any excuses and that’s not what we’re trying to do but, we’re trying to build chemistry every single week. There is a bunch of different guys that are getting thrust into different positions. We’re trying to figure it out for sure. I think today was a great step in the right direction.”

It didn't start promising.

JJ Watt performed a Triple Lindy dive into the fountain of youth, notching three first-half sacks.

But when Colt McCoy was concussed on the first drive of the third quarter drive, replaced by third stringer Trace McSorley, he took the Cardinals' chances of winning with him to the locker room.

With Russell Wilson watching in sweats and a winter coat, playsheet in hand and IFB in ear, Rypien made his second start. The first drive included two receptions by Jeudy and a 52-yard field goal from Brandon McManus.

Rypien owns a 2-1 record. He and Trevor Siemian (13-11) represent the only two quarterbacks with a winning record since Peyton Manning retired. It was messy in the first half, offering hints of disappointment.

After their opening score, the next six drives read like Cliffs Notes on their season — punt, missed field goal, punt, punt, punt, fumble. The latter came from Rypien as he cocked his arm and Watt popped the ball out with his finger on his third sack of the half.

Watt wrecked plays and drives, performing like it was 2012. The Broncos offensive line stood no chance, especially after right guard Quinn Meinerz exited on the first drive with a concerning right eye injury from a poke. Watt toyed with center Graham Glasgow, right guard Tom Compton and right tackle Billy Turner. Compton limped off in the third quarter, leaving the position to third stringer Luke Wattenberg.

Watching Watt age like Benjamin Button, it made the decision to sit Wilson, despite clearing the concussion protocol, even wiser. No need for the franchise quarterback with a $242 million contract to absorb this type of punishment in a meaningless game.

The Broncos entered Sunday dogged by a cascade of failures. McManus, while overworked, has been underwhelming, ranking 29th out of 34 kickers when eschewing 60-yard attempts. His miss wide right on a 38-yarder in the first quarter loomed large for long stretches.

The Broncos managed to hold on with a running game and stingy defense. It was a soothing balm to months of disappointment and pain.

"It feels good," Pat Surtain II said. "It's been a long time."

Cardinals rookie tight end Trey McBride, a Fort Morgan and CSU legend, spent part of his pregame talking with fellow Colorado prep star Dalton Risner and signing autographs. ...

Dre'Mont Jones said he has labrum issues in both hips that requires rest, but no surgery. He will be a free agent at season's end. The club has indicated that it wants him back, but at what price and would the Broncos consider using the franchise tag? ...

Billy Turner returned to the lineup and started at right tackle with Cam Fleming switching to the left side. ...

Quinn Meinerz (right eye) and Dalton Risner (left elbow) both exited in the first quarter, replaced by Tom Compton and Luke Wattenberg. Following Risner's exit, the Broncos allowed sacks on two of the next three plays. Meinerz never returned to the game.