The Denver Broncos entered Sunday night's tilt against the Minnesota Vikings with the NFL's 13th-most efficient red zone offense, scoring on 54.8% of trips in opposing territory.
However, the operation was anything but efficient in Week 11 as Denver went one-for-five in the red zone — settling for a slew of field goals — amid their narrow 21-20 win over Minnesota.
It was a recurring theme: the Broncos failed to find paint because they failed to keep drives alive, finishing just two-for-12 on third downs and instead relying, rather disappointingly, on the leg of kicker Wil Lutz.
Teach-tape for the chief architect of it all, who bears his share of responsibility.
“Again, you’re going to look at those third-down numbers—when you have a game where—I don’t know how many total offensive plays we had—but if you’re two-of-11—I think that was what we were—then you’re not going to be in the 70s or 80s. So, time of possession, all those things become byproducts," head coach Sean Payton said after the game. "Those are all technically like turnover downs. You’re punting. So we have to get that cleaned up and we have to be better on third down, obviously. We’re going to have to be better—play better—because we’re going to play in bigger games against opponents that will be progressively tougher and tougher.”
No one, not even Payton himself, would use "pretty" as a descriptor for the Broncos' offense through three quarters versus Minnesota. They turned a trio of defensive takeaways into a mere nine points, and continually put that same defense back on the field.
Though, as has been the case during Denver's four-game winning streak, they came alive in the final frame. The lone red-zone touchdown was a 15-yard dazzler to wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who provided his latest toe-tapping spectacle with 1:03 remaining in the contest.
Rarely this season has Payton's bunch looked "pretty" — but they've managed to get the job done. Sutton now ranks second in the NFL in TD receptions (8) and quarterback Russell Wilson now ranks first in fourth-quarter comebacks (4).
And the suddenly 5-5 Broncos now are a team that found its identity: snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
“That was huge," Payton said. "We did some silly things. We got a quarterback sneak, we’re in the wrong formation—it’s an easy call. We go from converting a short yardage play to being backed up. It was a gutsy drive. Fortunately, we had our timeouts. We had the one challenge, but even though they converted, we got that timeout back. That was a good two-minute drive, now. It was a good drive and he got a lot of different looks. When he got coverage, he found the running backs again, much like last week. A little bit longer drive, but—then we got blitzed. There’s a lot that they do defensively, but it was good, obviously, to come out with a win.”
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