The Denver Broncos won a game of two distinct halves. The Cincinnati Bengals looked like they would run away with Monday night's game after scoring consecutive touchdowns on long drives to open the game. At halftime, the Bengals had outgained the Broncos 204 yards to 89, and held the ball for more than 21 minutes on their way to a 14-3 lead.
The Broncos flipped momentum in the second half. If not for a horribly shanked game-winning field goal attempt, they might have won in regulation. Instead, they won in overtime, kicking a field goal then recovering a dropped AJ McCarron snap to end the game.
The Broncos shook the Bengals out of the gate after intermission. Taking possession, Brock Osweiler finally got the protection he needed to pick apart the Bengals, passing for 73 yards and a score on an 81-yard drive. The teams traded seven punts until a 39-yard C.J. Anderson touchdown run put the Broncos up 17-14 with 11 minutes to play.
Monday Night Football has been a wild ride this season. The Week 16 edition was no exception. The Bengals tied the game with a field goal in response to the Broncos' second touchdown. The Broncos wound up with the ball with under two minutes to go and Osweiler, who played well when he wasn't hounded by Bengals defenders, was at his best. He threw pinpoint passes for 16- and 26-yard gains to put the Broncos in field goal range. But with four seconds remaining, the normally reliable Brandon McManus missed his game-winning 45-yard attempt by about 20 yards to the left, setting up overtime.
Three things we learned:
1) The Broncos defense was awful ... for a half
The Broncos opened Monday's game giving up their two longest drives of the season, in terms of both the number of plays and time of possession. In just two trips with the football, the Bengals ate up 170 yards and 15:24 in 28 plays to go up 14-0. They went 7-for-7 on third downs before the Broncos finally held firm and forced a missed field goal on the Bengals' third possession.
The Broncos' had given up more than 300 yards of total offense five times in last seven games heading into Monday after giving up 300-plus just twice in their first six of the season. They were on their way to give up more than 300 again, but held the Bengals to just 90 yards after half to give up 294 overall.
The Broncos defense still isn't playing up to its early season standard, but credit is due for stalling the Bengals.
2) AJ McCarron was the real deal ... for a half
AJ McCarron was efficient against an excellent Broncos secondary to start Monday's game, going 12-for-17 for 119 yards and a score in the first half. He made the right decision consistently, even tucking the ball and running for first downs despite not being known for his speed.
In short, he looked like a viable NFL quarterback, which is saying something for a fifth-round pick.
Then for most of the second half, he couldn't do anything. When there was 11:17 left in the fourth quarter, McCarron had gone just 4-for-6 for 15 yards in the second half. Deep plays were no longer available. After going 7-for-8 on third downs in the first half, the Bengals went 3-for-9 in the second. The slow-down wasn't entirely McCarron's fault, but an encouraging first half lost its luster by the time the game ended.
3) The AFC's supposedly best teams are floundering
The Bengals and Broncos are both near the top of the AFC standings, but those who watched Monday's game probably didn't feel like they were watching NFL elite. The Patriots also lost this weekend, as did the Steelers, a surging team many thought might be rounding into Super Bowl form.
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