Defensive about-face and Russell Wilson's return to form have Broncos heading toward playoff race

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Broncos linebacker Alex Singleton thought he had a first-quarter interception of Josh Allen on Monday night but his momentum had carried him way out of bounds.

“Zero spatial awareness,” said Singleton, who recovered Allen's third-quarter fumble in the Broncos' 24-22 victory. “I need to do toe-tapping lessons, I guess."

He needn't look any further than teammate Courtland Sutton for those lessons.

The wide receiver's toe-dragging touchdown catch — of Russell Wilson's equally impressive throw after he'd spun out of a potential fourth-down sack — had a 3.2% completion probability, according to Next Gen stats, the lowest on any NFL touchdown pass since 2017.

It was one of a number of plays, many of them backbreaking shovel passes, by Wilson that befuddled the Bills (5-5), who were throttled all night by a rejuvenated Denver defense that collected four takeaways.

That came on the heels of the Broncos forcing the Kansas City Chiefs into five turnovers in their last game.

Three of the turnovers Monday night came from players who weren't on the field for Denver's meltdown in Miami in September when they allowed 10 touchdowns and lost 70-20.

Nickel cornerback Ja'Quan McMillian ripped the ball out of the arms of Bills running back James Cook and recovered it on Buffalo's opening snap, setting up Denver's opening field goal. Cornerback Fabian Moreau picked off Allen just before halftime, setting up another field goal.

Neither was in the lineup for the Miami debacle, nor was safety Justin Simmons, who was out with an injury for that game. Simmons picked off Allen on Buffalo's second drive.

Wilson has also played much better since that Week 3 loss at Miami. Since then, he's thrown for a dozen touchdowns with just two interceptions while operating Sean Payton's conservative offense that's seen him average a mere 169 yards passing over his last six games.

Wilson's rebound and the defensive about-face have the Broncos (4-5) riding their first three-game winning streak since starting out 2021 with a 3-0 record.

Although they're not in the playoff hunt just yet, they're trending that way after a 1-5 start had their frustrated fans eyeing this year's college stars and next year's draft more than the NFL postseason, which the Broncos haven't been a part of since the Peyton Manning era.

As Eli Manning reminded his brother teasingly on their simulcast Monday night when Peyton excitedly yelled, “That's our ball,” after the Broncos forced an early fumble, “ Our ball? It's been eight years.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Denver's defense has allowed 16.7 points in the Broncos' last four games after yielding a whopping 36.2 over the first five weeks. They have nine takeaways in back-to-back games for the first time since 1998.

WHAT NEEDS WORK

Aside from the team plane that had mechanical issues, delaying the Broncos' return to Denver on Tuesday, K Wil Lutz and P/holder Riley Dixon, had a bad game. Lutz missed an extra point off the left upright and the 41-yard game-winner to the right, a miss that was negated by Buffalo's dozen defenders. Lutz nailed the 36-yard do-over. Dixon fumbled the PAT following Denver's final touchdown, which opened the door for Buffalo to take its first lead in the final 2 minutes.

The two botched extra points is what led Payton to forgo a field goal try on third down and instead had Wilson take a knee, then sending his kicking team out on a fire drill known as “Hurricane."

Payton said there would be less thinking and more doing with the seconds ticking away, and besides, in the chaos, the Bills had one too many defenders, turning a stirring victory into a stunning defeat.

STOCK UP

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has done wonders with his guys after shaking up the lineup following the Miami game. The unit had just one penalty against Buffalo, an offsides call on DL Mike Purcell.

STOCK DOWN

The Broncos offense committed nine of the team's 10 penalties, including C Lloyd Cushenberry III's trifecta of being ineligible downfield, committing an offensive hold and a false start. Tackles Mike McGlinchey and Garett Bolles also had false starts.

INJURIES

S PJ Locke sprained an ankle. Kareem Jackson returns this week from his two-game suspension for an illegal hit and Payton indicated he's returning to the starting lineup in place of Locke, who played exceptionally well in Jackson's absence.

KEY NUMBERS

30 — Career interceptions by Simmons, who's in his eighth year.

7 — Career-high touchdown catches for Sutton this season after collecting just two in each of his last two seasons.

NEXT STEPS

The Broncos host another team on a roll when Joshua Dobbs and the Minnesota Vikings (6-4), who are on a five-game winning streak, visit Denver for a Sunday night game that not long ago had the looks of a snoozer but now features two hot teams.

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