Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals only made things tougher on the Denver Broncos 48 hours after their boss labeled them as soft.
Dalton’s three touchdown throws and a defense that contributed two takeaways helped the Bengals beat the Broncos 20-17 Sunday for their first win in Denver since 1975, when franchise founder Paul Brown was their head coach.
“I didn’t know that stat,” Dalton said. “It feels good anytime you can win. It’s tough to win on the road. For us, this is big.”
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis conveniently left out the fact that the Bengals had lost 10 in a row at Denver in prepping his team for this game.
“These guys weren’t even alive in ’75, were they?” Lewis said.
That year, Brown’s Bengals prevailed 17-16 at the old Mile High Stadium, which is now a parking lot.
“No, I don’t remember that,” cracked A.J. Green, who wasn’t born until 1988. “I don’t keep up with history a lot.”
Denver’s dive is certainly reaching historic proportions.
Not only did the Broncos see their 10-game home winning streak against Cincinnati (4-6) snapped, but they lost their sixth straight game, their longest skid since 1990.
“This isn’t the culture here,” lamented quarterback Brock Osweiler, who just two years ago helped as the Broncos won Super Bowl 50. “The standard here is to win championships, get to the playoffs every year and contend for Super Bowls, and right now we’re not playing football like that. So, it’s very frustrating.”
The Broncos (3-7) have been outscored by 100 points during their skid that led general manager John Elway to suggest over the weekend that “we got a little bit soft” after a 3-1 start that followed a perfect preseason.
“I was initially offended, but in some aspects he’s right,” said Broncos rookie coach Vance Joseph, who also received a vote of confidence from Elway, who suggested it was up to the players, not the coaching staff, to pull Denver out of its doldrums.
Players’ reactions to Elway’s insult ranged from anger to acceptance.
“None of us are soft,” fumed Brandon Marshall.
“He was telling the truth,” allowed Von Miller.
Trailing by a field goal, the Broncos got the ball back with 1:52 left on their 20-yard line, and on fourth-and-4 Osweiler’s low throw to Emmanuel Sanders was broken up by Dre Kirkpatrick, whose big play in the first half set the tone for Cincinnati’s historic win.
Kirkpatrick’s interception return nearly covered 102 yards. But he fumbled the ball at the Denver 15-yard line before smothering it at the 1.
“I’ve got to punch that in,” lamented Kirkpatrick.
Dalton had his back, connecting with Tyler Kroft for the score three plays later.
Because his first completion had lost a yard, Dalton had this oddball stat line: zero passing yards but one TD throw.
Dalton only ended up throwing for 154 yards while completing 15 of 25 passes, but he had a 29-yard TD toss to Alex Erickson for a 13-7 halftime lead, and an 18-yarder to Green, which made it 20-10 with just under nine minutes remaining.
Demaryius Thomas’ 17-yard touchdown catch pulled the Broncos within 20-17 with five minutes left.
But cornerback Bradley Roby, burned for the last two touchdowns, committed a crucial pass interference call on a third-down incompletion to Green which allowed the Bengals to burn off more time.
“We’re still in it,” Bengals receiver Brandon LaFell said. “You look around the league, there’s a lot of teams 4-6, 5-5. So, we’re right in the thick of things.”
And the Broncos are still stuck in reverse.
FAST START: Shaq Barrett’s blocked punt set the Broncos up at the Bengals 29 in the opening minutes.
Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who has stubbornly stuck with three-receiver sets as his base formation during Denver’s nosedive, emptied his backfield on third-and-3 from the Cincinnati 4. That’s when Osweiler’s pass was picked off by Kirkpatrick.
The Broncos reached the Cincinnati 3 on their next drive and again lined up with an empty backfield. Only this time, C.J. Anderson motioned in from the left, took the handoff and sneaked across the goal line for Denver’s first rushing touchdown in the first quarter all season.
Brandon McManus’ extra point put Denver ahead 7-6. McManus nailed a 61-yarder at the end of the first half, but Marvin Lewis had called a timeout, and his do-over was blocked by KeiVarae Russell.
Anderson had a crucial fumble at midfield early in the fourth quarter that led to Cincinnati’s second touchdown.
TASTING A TURNAROUND: The Bengals are hoping this is the start of a season-saving run and they become the third team to reach the playoffs after a 3-6 start.
“Yeah?” Vontaze Burfict said when told the Bengals are only a game back in the wild card race. “Don’t count us out yet.”
QUARTERBACK QUAGMIRE: Osweiler fell to 0-3 since supplanting Trevor Siemian, who was leap-frogged by Paxton Lynch for the first time Sunday when Lynch was the backup and Siemian inactive.
Asked if it was time to see conclusively if Lynch is a first-round bust or just a late bloomer, Joseph said, “We’ll see. We’re going to watch the tape and see where we are as an offense. Obviously, he’s healthy now. He’s a young player with talent.”
Osweiler said he’s not worried about getting benched.
“I’m never going to look over my shoulder,” he said.
Bengals LB Vincent Rey pulled his left hamstring in the second quarter and didn’t return.
Bengals: Host the Cleveland Browns next Sunday.
Broncos: Travel to Oakland seeking season sweep of the Raiders, whom they edged 16-10 on Oct. 1 before beginning their slide.