A team given a little bit of credit, and a healthy dose of "yeah, but" from its critics over a 3-0 start, the Broncos needed to show they were capable of winning against one of the NFL's upper-echelon teams.
Wins over Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Oakland, with resounding defense leading the way, had done little to sway many experts into thinking that Denver's success could carry over into the toughest part of its schedule. With those teams possessing suspect offenses, some doubt could be rightfully cast. Until now.
Denver took on the league's top-rated rushing attack, and limited it to just 74 yards (the Cowboys came in averaging over 190 yards per game on the ground). The Broncos added, for good measure, five sacks, an interception, and a recovered fumble, while pressuring Tony Romo often. The result: Dallas was 3-for-14 on third down.
The Broncos were particularly stingy in the second half in terms of total yardage allowed, while shutting out the Cowboys over the final 45 minutes. They needed every bit of that airtight defense to pull out the victory.
Denver trailed most of the game, as the Cowboys' first-quarter dominance had stood up with a 10-7 lead late into the fourth quarter.
With just under six minutes remaining, the Broncos got a 28-yard field goal from Matt Prater, and then took the lead on a highlight-reel catch-and-run touchdown, Kyle Orton to Brandon Marshall.
The 51-yard score with 1:46 remaining began with Marshall picking the ball from just over the top of a Cowboys defender's head, racing towards the middle of the field, then cutting back to the right again, faking out and eluding several Dallas players in the process of scoring the go-ahead touchdown.
The Broncos still had to hold their breaths until the final seconds, before securing the victory.
Dallas, facing a fourth-down with about a minute to play, connected on an improbable 53-yard gain, moving to the Denver 20.
The Cowboys moved as close as the two-yard line with nine seconds to play, but on the ensuing two plays, Champ Bailey swatted away the potential game-tying touchdowns, securing the dramatic victory.
The 4-0 Broncos won over many critics who deemed their early-season success a complete mirage. While it will still take time for the sports world to be won over, continued success by Denver is looking more like a legitimate byproduct of an amazing turnaround by the defense, and something sustainable.
Meanwhile, the Denver offense manages to get by with solid rushing, a very good offensive line, and game-managing by Orton which thus far has been largely mistake-free. While Jay Cutler won many games with extraordinary plays for Denver, he helped contribute to losses with extraordinary risk-taking.
His Favre-ian abilities make for exciting football, but did not necessarily translate to a winning product for the Broncos.
Time will tell how it all works out for Denver, but so far, Orton at QB has not meant bad things for the Broncos.
Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl. Surely Orton could, too, with the right players around him. So far, quarter of the way through the season, those players have looked to be the right combination, for sure.
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