Joy to the world. The Broncos won.
After their first triumph at Empower Field at Mile High in almost three months, the Broncos made loud noises. Before high-fiving CEO Greg Penner, Jerry Jeudy spoke for everyone in Colorado.
“About time!” Jeudy shouted.
Dalton Risner bellowed: “How’s that for (expletive!) running the ball?!”
Randy Gregory added: “Woooooo!”
The beat-up Broncos beat the beater-up Cardinals 24-15 Sunday afternoon. Joy, joy, joy.
“This team — we really love each other,” DJ Jones told me.
Give a game ball to Broncos Country. The 75,000 who attended stomped and roared as if the Broncos had improved to 10-4, not 4-10.
The ones who played hooky spoke loudly, too.
A crowd that could fill Ball Arena stayed home — 18,423, the second-highest number of no-shows in the past 11 years. Only a 2019 game vs. the Chargers had more no-shows — 19,094.
Hey, Mr. Penner, the fans are trying to tell you something. They care deeply — when they’re there and especially when they’re not.
The Broncos had not won at home since Sept. 25. Next Sunday is Christmas Day, Dec. 25.
Good on the Broncos for fighting and scratching and clawing. They also got 130 rushing yards from Latavius Murray and a pair of interceptions from Justin Simmons. The Broncos played their tails off, so I’m not here to bah humbug the fourth win (out of 14 attempts) this season.
But… those empty seats aren’t going to fill themselves. Even in victory, Broncos fans showed they are not OK with another lost season. As Murray rumbled 10 yards for a touchdown, I glanced at the north end of Mile High and noticed something I’d never seen in the third quarter of a Broncos game: the horse-head logo that’s painted across the 500 level.
You’re not supposed to see the Broncos logo across the 500 level. It’s supposed to be filled.
It’s not filled, not even close. Sunday, Broncos fans were conspicuous in their absence. And tickets at kickoff were available for $20 a pop.
After a proud comeback against the Chiefs (in a loss) and a win over the Cards, there could be a tendency to say Nathaniel Hackett and Co. have figured out this football thing and are building momentum into Year 2. Sorry, not buying it. The Chiefs clinched the AFC West before Christmas Day, and the Cardinals played most of the game with a third-string quarterback. There must be a serious late push to justify running this all back.
On a gorgeous Sunday in December, the no-shows spoke as loud as the locker room.
The Broncos scored more than 16 points in a win for the first time on American soil. Murray, who is 32 and was a midseason addition, scored a touchdown and became the Broncos’ first 100-yard rusher. Marlon Mack, another midseason addition, added 37 yards and a touchdown.
“Couple of old heads,” Mack said after.
Hackett’s decision — or somebody above him’s decision — to cede play-calling duties to Klint Kubiak has paid off. The Broncos scored 28 and 24 points in back-to-back games, a scoring bonanza for the NFL’s worst offense. Several players pointed to Kubiak as a difference-maker.
“Klint’s a really smart coach, knows the offense really well. He’s putting his players in the best decision to be successful,” said Jeudy, who has benefited the most with 214 receiving yards and three touchdowns over the last three.
When things are bad, change is good.
It was joyful to see the Broncos smile again, and DJ Jones will make a perfect Santa Claus when he’s done playing ball. Jones playfully interviewed linemate DeShawn Williams with his own cell phone: “DeShawn, what was your motivation?”
Williams responded with a grin, “Next question.”
Afterward, Russell Wilson, who did not play as he recovers from a concussion, roamed the room in a Christmas suit and congratulated his teammates. Backup Brett Rypien got the win.
“Something you may not know about Brett,” Gregory said, “is that he’s very confident.”
Hackett said Wilson will be the starter on Christmas Day against the Rams.
The Broncos snapped a five-game losing streak.
There was joy from Hackett, who chest-bumped players as they left the field. There was joy from Jones, who wore a Christmas ornament as a necklace. ’Tis the season. The focus now is “making sure these last three games are the best three games we played all year,” Jones said.
The Broncos deserved their after-party and expressed their emotions loudly. So did the fans who witnessed a rare home victory in person — and the ones who stayed home.