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Denver's defense pours 'a little sugar on it' in opening win

DENVER -- Throughout the offseason Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Joe Woods said the team's defensive playbook would look familiar to those who cared to follow how things have gone, but said he was "just going to put a little sugar on it."

Well, consider the first serving of sugar dispensed quite nicely.

The Broncos escaped with a 24-21 victory against the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday night, a win that was closed out only when defensive end Shelby Harris blocked Youghoe Koo's 44-yard field goal attempt with seconds remaining in the game.

"Way too close," said linebacker Von Miller. "A little too exciting."

"It wasn't clean, but it was good to win," said Broncos coach Vance Joseph.

But in the first game of Woods' tenure as the Broncos' defensive signal-caller, the Broncos offered what they hope is a preview of what's to come.

After all, there were many among the team's faithful who regarded Wade Phillips' departure this past offseason as the biggest loss. Phillips was a social media star and had been on the headset when the Broncos put together one of the best defensive seasons in history in 2015.

The Broncos then followed that up in '16 as the league's No. 1 pass defense for the second consecutive season. Phillips was not re-signed by the Broncos after Gary Kubiak stepped down as the head coach. Joseph, shortly after he was hired, promoted Woods to the job. Monday night proved to be quite the opening act.

"Just look at it," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "We didn't even give up 200 yards passing. You don't give up 200 yards passing in this league and you're going to win some games, a lot of games."

The Broncos held Philip Rivers to 192 yards passing, the Chargers finished with 249 net yards and Los Angeles tight end Antonio Gates had two receptions for 17 yards. All that without a sack for Miller.

"This was crucial for us," said cornerback Aqib Talib. "You start with a division game, right away, that's crucial, super important ... we know we've got some things to get right, but that's a good start."

The Broncos know the defense-first model works, it's how they put the franchise's third Super Bowl trophy in the lobby of the team's complex two seasons ago. But they have changed some things as well.

They released safety T.J. Ward (a two-time Pro Bowl selection in his three seasons with the Broncos), have dealt with some early injuries in the defensive front and have put second-year safeties Justin Simmons and Will Parks into the mix.

And Monday night, after safety Darian Stewart left the game with a groin injury, undrafted rookie Jamal Carter found himself playing on defense. None of it mattered, at least on this one night.

Though it wasn't everything a group that is notoriously hard to please wanted, the Chargers had arrived to Monday night's affair thinking they had impact players across the formation on offense, starting with Rivers. And after three quarters the Chargers had 115 yards worth of offense and Denver's run defense, which finished 28th in the league last season, limited the Chargers to 64 yards rushing -- at 2.9 yards per carry -- with 21 of those rushing yards coming on Melvin Gordon's first carry of the game.

Rivers kicked things into gear a bit in the fourth quarter after a fluke interception thrown by Trevor Siemian that bounced off a player's shoe and a Jamaal Charles fumble. But the Broncos' three quarters of work outweighed the rally by the three fingers Harris said he got on the game-winning field goal block.

"It's one game, we have to string a bunch of these together," Harris said. "But I don't know why people haven't really talked about us or whatever. We'll just keep doing it and then they can talk about us later if they want. We know what we can do and we can be a lot better."