It looked as if Osweiler had helped the Broncos to a victory, and playoff berth, in regulation. But Brandon McManus missed what would have been the winning field goal as time expired. McManus redeemed himself on the opening drive in overtime, hitting a 37-yard field goal that eventually gave the Broncos a 20-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
"Sometimes that’s just how the game goes," Osweiler said of the missed field goal. "But our team has a lot of special guys on it, and those guys are willing to fight for sometimes 60-plus minutes. We have had to do that couple of times this year. It’s just a heck of a team effort, great win in front of the best fans in the world."
After a shaky first half, the rejuvenated Broncos put together a touchdown drive to open the third quarter and scored again early in the fourth to formally insert themselves into the playoff field. With a win over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday in the regular-season finale, the Broncos will clinch their fifth consecutive AFC West title.
But for a long stretch on a frigid night, it all looked like an impossible dream. The Broncos were overpowered on virtually every front in the opening half, as the Bengals had a 14-0 lead with just over four minutes gone in the second quarter. It was so bad that the Broncos had put together just 29 yards of offense prior to a 60-yard drive that ended in a field goal just before halftime.
"We flip-flopped things. You know last week we started fast, finished slow," Osweiler said. "We just thought we would do the opposite this week."
Osweiler finished 27-of-39 for 299 yards and a touchdown. He is now 4-2 as a starter and has wins over the New England Patriots and Bengals in overtime.
What were they thinking?: After a weekend when a coin flip was one of the biggest headlines following the New York Jets' overtime win over the Patriots, referee Ed Hochuli had a bobble Monday night. After the Broncos won the toss and elected to defer until the second half, Hochuli said “Cincinnati" won the toss and would kick off. The players, after a slight hesitation, headed in the proper directions anyway.
One reason to get excited: There are times when Osweiler looks comfortable in the “so-called’’ Peyton Manning offense, in the shotgun and with a three-wide receiver set. The Broncos opened the second half with an 11-play touchdown drive. All 11 plays were run with three-wide receiver sets, and Osweiler was in the shotgun on eight of the plays. It bodes well for a team that hasn’t always stressed opposing defenses in pass-first situations.
One reason to panic: Teams that can’t consistently win at the point of attack on offense don’t advance in the playoffs. The Bengals simply overwhelmed the Broncos at the point of attack in the first half Monday night. Over and over again, the Bengals rushed off the edge and swarmed the middle; Osweiler was sacked twice in the first half and hit on several more plays. And the Broncos also rushed for just 32 yards in the first half. With Denver trying to work around injuries on the offensive line, defenses -- including Cincinnati's -- have refined their approach against the Broncos' running attack.
Fantasy watch: Emmanuel Sanders said he signed with the Broncos to show what he could do as a top-tier option in their passing game. With 67 yards receiving in the first half on Monday, he topped 1,000 yards for the second consecutive season. While he won’t lead the team in catches or yards this season -- Demaryius Thomas will -- Sanders has been the team’s most consistent option at wideout and might have led all categories if not for shoulder and ankle injuries.
Ouch: The Broncos had significant question marks at safety last week. Darian Stewart didn’t practice until the end of the week because of a hamstring injury, while T.J. Ward, who had missed the previous three games with a left ankle injury, had been limited through the week. Ward left the game in the fourth quarter after it appeared he had re-injured his ankle. Osweiler came in with a sore left shoulder and appeared to suffer a left elbow injury in the first half. Linebacker Brandon Marshall left the game in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury, C.J. Anderson suffered a back injury on a fourth-quarter play when he fumbled, Sanders limped off after an incomplete pass in overtime and tight end Owen Daniels left the game after taking a big hit in overtime.