Story by The Associated Press
The Denver Broncos' much maligned offensive line broke their silence last week. They made an earsplitting statement Sunday.
Behind blockers angry over being scapegoated for the team's myriad problems, the Broncos found the balance, ground game and pocket of protection that had eluded them during their recent slide. Capitalizing on this newfound nastiness, Peyton Manning threw four TD passes, including three to Demaryius Thomas, and C.J. Anderson ran for 167 yards and the go-ahead score in Denver's 39-36 win over Miami on Sunday.
"We all needed to be accountable to our teammates," guard Orlando Franklin said. "We felt we've been letting our teammates down and not taking care of business."
With perfect balance — 35 runs and 35 throws — the Broncos (8-3) overcame an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to stay atop the highly competitive AFC West.
"They took so much (heat) during the week," Anderson said of the O-line, which is building chemistry on the run after wholesale changes three weeks ago. "They're still human and some of them got feelings. They're not going to tell you, but some of them were hurt."
They put the hurt on the Dolphins to the tune of 201 yards, but the Broncos' first lead didn't come until Anderson's 6-yard run up the middle with 5:01 left put Denver ahead 32-28.
Then, Ryan Tannehill's pass skipped off Jarvis Landry's left hand to T.J. Ward, whose 37-yard return set up Wes Welker's insurance TD catch.
The Broncos needed it after Tannehill drove the Dolphins (6-5) on another scoring drive, hitting Landry from a yard out with 1:34 left. Lamar Miller's 2-point dive made it a three-point game.
The Dolphins' onside kick was recovered by — who else? — Anderson, who sealed the game with a 26-yard run that could have been longer had he not slid so the Broncos could get in victory formation.
"You just have to give it up to the big boys up front. They took so much heat the outside and the media all week," said Anderson, who added 28 yards on four catches.
Manning became the third player in NFL history with touchdown passes in 50 consecutive games, joining Drew Brees (54) and Tom Brady (52). He threw for 257 yards on 28-of-35 passing.
Emmanuel Sanders led the way with nine catches for 125 yards, and Thomas finished with 10 catches for 87 yards, failing to match Calvin "Megatron" Johnson's NFL record of eight straight 100-yard games.
His consolation was three touchdowns.
"Nah," Thomas said he asked if he was disappointed. "... I just wanted to win the game. I had a decent game, helped the team. The main thing is we won the game."
Tannehill (26 of 36 for 227 yards with three TDs) kept the Dolphins a step ahead much of the afternoon.
Miami went ahead 28-17 on Tannehill's 5-yard TD toss to Landry after Isaiah Burse fumbled a punt at his own 12.
Manning drove the Broncos downfield and found Thomas from 5 yards out, then hit Sanders with the 2-point pass to pull Denver to 28-25 with 14:09 remaining.
"I thought the best thing our team did was we stayed pretty calm," Manning said. "We just had a real calm demeanor the entire game. Everybody did. And that definitely proved to be a key factor late in the game."
The only time the Broncos lost their cool came when Brandon McManus clanked a 33-yard field goal try off the right upright after Manning had tripped on third-and-1 from the 7 for his only sack.
His teammates could hardly hide their anguish. On the sideline, center Manny Ramirez ripped his helmet off and hollered as Thomas slammed his helmet to the ground.
"To come away with no points was really disappointing," Manning said, "and once again it could have been that 'this is not our day' type of mentality. We just said, 'Hey, it's obviously going to be a dogfight.'"
Ultimately, it was the Dolphins who would lament the loss, the Broncos' balance having thrown them off.
"They're known for throwing the ball all over the place," cornerback Brent Grimes said. "They had a plan to run the ball and control the game like that. They did a good job of it."
Franklin was happy for the one-week reprieve from the criticism.
"This is the NFL. One week, you're great and the next week, they're talking about you like they talked about you last week," he said. "It really doesn't matter what everybody else thinks as long as we got the win tonight and as long as our teammates are happy with each and every one of us."