Brett Rypien deceived, Eric Tomlinson received, and the Broncos believed in Santa on Sunday.
The football Cardinals never have won a game in Denver. Vance Joseph hasn’t won a game since Nov. 25, 2018, at then Broncos Stadium at Mile High before he was fired as head coach. Kliff Kingsbury most likely won’t ever win a game in Colorado considering how badly he coaches. The Broncos hadn’t won here or anywhere else in the United States since Sept. 25. And Nathaniel Hackett may have won for the last time as Broncos head coach.
For a rare occasion, the dwindling number of Broncos’ followers weren’t booing, chanting or crying out loud in the fourth quarter.
On a day when all four affiliates of the AFC West eventually managed to stave off potential defeats, the Broncos beat the Cardinals in a throwaway tussle between two teams now 4-10.
On a Sunday afternoon when tickets waned to just $12 on the secondary market, 18,423 didn’t show, and way more than 18,000 fled at halftime as the Christmas Cards led 6-3, the Broncos utilized their second-string quarterback to outplay second- and third-string quarterbacks.
An overcome comeback -- glory be!
Where has been that ground game all season? Where have been three interceptions in one game? Where has been the fourth victory? Where have been more teams like the Texans and the Cardinals?
Where has been that Rypien fabulous fake on possibly the Broncos’ offensive play of the year?
Clinging to a precarious 10-9 lead in the second half, the Broncos were relying on the M&M combination, not to be confused with the 1977 M&M connections (quarterback Craig Morton and wide receiver Haven Moses). Latavius Murray and Marlon Mack hadn’t been glints in the Broncos’ eyes earlier in the season, but were picked up off the discard pile to become the sixth and seventh running backs utilized by the Broncos because of injuries and Melvin Gordon’s fumblelitis.
M&M were M’M, M’M good Sunday, with Murrary running 24 times for 130 yards, including a 37-yard dash, and Mack contributing 37 yards. The Broncos had 34 rushes overall for a season-high 168 yards, and the two backs each scored once.
With 11 minutes remaining Murray burst 10 yards to give the Broncos a 17-9 lead. Three Arizona plays later QB Trace McSorley, who most people in the stadium didn’t know still played in the league, threw poorly and Justin Simmons got his second interception of the game. The first pick was off Colt McCoy, who also continues to hang around.
The Broncos were established at the Cardinals’ 5. Murray grabbed two yards. On second down Rypien feigned a handoff, turned his back to the line, stopped and stood still with ball cradled surreptitiously, then veered around and threw into the end zone to the lonely Tomlinson, a blocking tight end who had caught only one touchdown pass in his career.
Rypien’s deception and Tomlinson’s reception provided the Broncos with an insurmountable 24-9 advantage that would end a five-game losing streak and deliver the players, coach Hackett, general manager George Paton, the new ownership and the faithful who had stayed Christmas cheer a week before Dec. 25 in Los Angeles.
The Broncos will not participate in the playoffs or get a pony under the tree for the sixth consecutive holiday season. But the 2022 team always will cherish a 24-15 triumph over a team that threatened to foil a fourth victory. The Broncos last won only three games in a full season 55 years ago.
Kingsbury, Joseph and the faulty officiating crew even gift-wrapped the game for the Broncos.
After the Cardinals cut the difference to 24-15, the coach chose to attempt a two-point conversion and eschew a kick that would pull them to within eight points. But the pass was not completed when a back judge didn’t call obvious pass interference. The Cardinals would need two scores. No chance.
Joseph, the Cardinals’ coordinator on defense, didn’t offer enough, just as he didn’t as head coach with the Broncos in 2017-18 when he compiled an 11-21 record.
Hackett, who could be in his last month on this job, did celebrate with hugs when the quarterback came off the field after his one touchdown pass in two starts this season.
Ho, Ho, Oh Broncos!