Broncos focused on finishing in AFC title game

Broncos focused on finishing in AFC title game
January 14, 2014, 12:30 pm
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In the Broncos' brilliant season, a trait has revealed itself. They sometimes let teams back into games.
 
It happened first against the Cowboys. Up 35-20 at the start of the fourth quarter, Dallas went on a 28-3 run to claim the lead late in the fourth before Denver settled back down and scored the final six to win 51-48.
 
Against the Patriots, there was the 24-0 halftime lead they coughed up. Credit to Denver and Peyton Manning for coming back to send the game to overtime but a gaffe by Wes Welker on a punt return handed the Patriots the OT win.
 
Up 28-6 on San Diego in the third quarter, the Chargers got it to a one-score game with 10 minutes left but eventually succumbed 28-20. And this past Sunday, they had to sweat out their 24-17 win over San Diego as the Chargers scored the final 10 points.
 
That they don’t completely cough it up and find a way to survive is a credit to them. And there’s a measure of game-management that comes in when a team builds a lead in which it is willing to concede a little to an opposing offense in order to keep the clock moving toward 0:00.
 
But the Broncos themselves are very aware of their need to keep twisting the knife until there’s no further movement from their opponent.
 
“It’s definitely a mentality,” said Broncos safety Mike Adams. “When you start fast, you’ve got to finish fast. You’ve got to finish the same way. And it’s hard because we’re all professional athletes and they’re liable to make plays as well. So it’s hard to have that mentality for four quarters. But it’s doable. We can do it. And that is definitely what it is -- a mentality that you’ve got to continue to have for four quarters to win the game.”
 
The loss to the Patriots is going to nag the Broncos all week. On one hand, they know the danger of not closing the Patriots out and will be bent on doing so. On the other, they know the Patriots are hard to kill.
 
“I think that’s something New England does very, very well -- they play 60-minute football and they play sound, fundamental football,” said wide receiver Eric Decker. “Obviously we did a good job of taking a lead early, the defense played outstanding and we didn’t finish. That was a hard lesson learned throughout the year. I thought we’ve had a couple of those this year. We faced a lot of adversity and when you look at this week, you have to capitalize and make sure you minimize all mistakes throughout the game. We had a couple yesterday -- a couple myself. I think those things you have to take a hard look at and make sure you don’t let that happen against a good team like New England.”
 
The Broncos can be buoyed by the fact that, when they needed to get first downs to close out the Chargers, they did. On the other hand, a secondary breakdown by the Chargers allowed Julius Thomas to run naked for a third-and-17 conversion and a very questionable pass interference call against Wes Welker was another bone tossed Denver’s way in the closing minutes. Good fortune assisted.
 
Still, defensive lineman Terrence Knighton said the end result is what mattered.
 
“We just have to apply the pressure that we had -- the energy -- with San Diego yesterday,” he said. “The first three quarters, they couldn’t do anything on us. I don’t know really what happened in the fourth quarter but we just have to do a better job just keeping the pedal down and not depending on the offense to take us home and shut teams out.”
 
Adams said that, in the first Patriots matchup, nobody took the reins.
 
“We didn’t finish the game and we didn’t come out with that same fire and that same intensity,” he pointed out. “I think the first or second drive, they came out and scored a touchdown. And we never went back to the sideline. We never settled down. We never said, ‘OK, don’t worry about it. It’s Tom Brady. They’re going to score. They’re going to get theirs. They’re going to make their plays. Let’s go. Now, we’ve got to shut them up. We’ve got to shut them down a little bit.’ And we didn’t do that.”
 
Knighton knows it wasn’t just against the Broncos that the Patriots kicked the lid off the coffin.
 
“A team like that, that has been behind before and has plenty of comebacks and has had success playing from behind (is dangerous),” he said. “We just have to learn to put teams away and finish. That’s something that we can improve on from the game yesterday. We watched that today to see how we can improve and try to get better each week.”