'Battle-tested' Broncos won't panic, know how to win close games

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In a way, the Denver Broncos are football BASE jumpers: They constantly step to the edge, take a leap of faith and do their best to land where they need to.

To this point, the Broncos have played 17 games. Thirteen of those games -- 76.5 percent -- have been decided by seven or fewer points, and the Broncos have gone 10-3 in those games, including Sunday’s win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC divisional round.

The Broncos now face the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, with the winner advancing to the Super Bowl.

"I’ve been saying, of course you want to blow somebody out once in a while," Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. "I think we’re battle-tested, and I’ve been telling everybody, when it gets hot, we just play."

The Broncos have done so better this season than they did on the way to any of their previous four AFC West titles (they won their fifth in a row this year). In 2011, they were 7-4 in games decided by a touchdown or less in the regular season and 8-4 if their wild-card win over the Steelers is included. They were 1-2 in those games in 2012, 2-3 in their record-setting 2013 season and 4-1 the past season.

"But 10 wins? That’s not luck," cornerback Chris Harris Jr said. "I think you have to have the talent, and guys have to believe in what you’re doing. Everybody has to play to the end. I don’t think we always did that before."

As quarterback Peyton Manning pointed out after Sunday’s win -- a seven-point victory over the Steelers -- the Broncos started their crunch-time theatrics in the regular-season opener and kept things going from there.

In the opener, with the Broncos holding a six-point lead, safety Darian Stewart intercepted Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in the end zone with 28 seconds left to close out the game. In Week 2 in Kansas City, linebacker Brandon Marshall knocked a ball loose from Jamaal Charles, and cornerback Bradley Roby returned it 21 yards for a touchdown with 27 seconds to play.

There was T.J. Ward’s strip sack and fumble recovery against Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater with 29 seconds to play in Week 4.

There was Harris’ interception return for a touchdown in Week 5, the back-to-back sacks in overtime to move the Browns out of field goal range in Week 6, Miller’s strip sack of Jay Cutler in Week 11 and C.J. Anderson’s 48-yard touchdown run in overtime in Week 12.

The Broncos have had interception returns, fumble recoveries, key stops, big third-down catches, timely runs and decisive two-minute drives -- critical production from almost every player on the team's depth chart. So what is it? Why this team?

"We’ve been in these situations so many times that you don’t even panic anymore," wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. "You just know that we’re going to come through. This team has plenty of resilience. You never know where the big play is going to come, but everybody expects to make it ... maybe people nobody expects to do it, they do it."

Harris says his teammates are invested in each other. "We all want everybody to make plays, we’re accountable, we do the work," he said. "Nobody is trailing behind. Everybody works and is ready to go."

"It’s the kind of guys on this team," DeMarcus Ware said. "If you have a lot of people who never give up -- lots of guys say they don’t give up, but maybe they don’t mean it -- we always think we can do it. It’s real."

Coach Gary Kubiak has put it simply: "It’s always going to come down to people, having the right people and putting them in the right spots and playing to the end. They just have the right stuff."