DENVER — The Denver Broncos‘ defense got a little help — finally — from its friends Sunday in powering a 20-13 win over the Miami Dolphins at Empower Field at Mile High.

With a long list of injured players, including Von Miller who injured his ankle days before the season started, as well as its best defensive lineman at the moment — Shelby Harris — having missed the last three games due to COVID-19, the Broncos’ defense has hung in. But the group has found its biggest opponent has not been across the line of scrimmage, but on its own bench in the Broncos’ offense.

The Broncos entered Sunday’s game with a league-high 21 turnovers. When quarterback Drew Lock‘s interception two minutes into the game pushed the total to 22, it looked like another day of short fields and increasingly bad situations for the Broncos’ defense.

The Dolphins did indeed take that gift-wrapped toss and drive, from the Broncos’ 22-yard line, for a 7-0 lead. But Lock found at least some footing as the Broncos played a little bigger on offense with two- and three-tight-end looks and, in short, the Broncos moved to 4-6.

The Dolphins had 82 yards of offense at halftime, 105 yards at the end of the third quarter, as the Broncos’ defense had also sacked rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa three times and knocked him from the game early in the fourth quarter. It was the kind of day the Broncos had shown previously in flashes, at least before games got out of hand after yet another scoring drive of 20-something yards from their opponents after another interception.

So when the Broncos’ run game kicked in — 180 yards rushing Sunday — they were in position to enjoy the fruits of those labors.

Yes, the Broncos offense did award the Dolphins a last-gasp drive with Melvin Gordon‘s fumble on the Dolphins’ 1-yard line in the fourth quarter, but Justin Simmons‘ interception with about 1 minute left closed the door on Miami.

The New Orleans Saints and the Kansas City Chiefs — the Broncos’ next two opponents — will be serious upgrades, but Denver got some confirmation on what will work with Sunday’s win.

Two Words: Run. It. Another benefit (Gordon’s fumble on the Dolphins’ 1-yard line in the fourth quarter not withstanding) from the Broncos avoiding another day of spending the second half of a game in catch-up mode was it allowed them to use the one-two punch of Gordon and Phillip Lindsay.

The two had combined for 134 rushing yards and two touchdowns — both by Gordon — by the end of the third quarter as they finished with a combined 166 yards rushing.

Promising Trend: The willingness by offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to dial it back after Lock’s early mistake.

The Broncos have shown they would like to be in a three-wide-receiver set as much as they can. Opposing defensive coaches, however, believe it gives them a chance to throw some things at Lock he hasn’t always handled well. And Lock’s interception in the first quarter meant all 17 of the team’s interceptions have come in a three-wide set.

Shurmur leaned on the two- and three-tight-end looks more the rest of the way and when the Broncos had forced the Dolphins to worry about the run game, Shurmur cranked up some three-wide again.

QB Breakdown: Lock has been introduced to the quarterback hot seat that is the Rocky Mountain region and his confidence has taken a hit along the way.

After tossing an interception on his second pass attempt of the game seven days after his first career four-interception game in Las Vegas, it would have been easy to go into meltdown mode. But he settled in Sunday, for the most part, save for a smattering of errant tosses when a little more altitude on the throw would have resulted in big plays, and the Broncos’ offense settled down with him.

Pivotal Play: With the Broncos facing a third-and-10 at their own 41-yard line with 1 minute, 43 seconds left in the first half in a 10-10 game, Lock hit Jerry Jeudy for a 22-yard gain. Four plays later Brandon McManus ended the first half with a 47-yard field goal for the Broncos’ first lead in a game since their last-play win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 8.

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Denver Broncos to Send Game Ball to Hall of Fame RB Floyd Little

With Hall of Fame running back Floyd Little in hospice care, Denver Broncos coach Vic Fangio announced to his players after the team’s 20-13 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday that a game ball would be sent to Little and his family.

Little, whose cancer diagnosis was announced this past May, was moved into hospice care Saturday. The Broncos rushed for a season-high 189 yards against the Dolphins, with Denver South High School graduate Phillip Lindsay finishing with 82 yards on 16 carries.

“We talked about [Little],” Fangio said minutes after the Broncos’ victory. “One of the all-time greats in Broncos history, old No. 44, I remember as a kid growing up — I was an Eagles fan growing up — but from afar I was a Floyd Little fan, too. … We’re going to get it sent to him.”

For many in the Broncos’ passionate faithful, Little was the team’s first star and known as “the Franchise.” A familiar face and vibrant presence at team functions through the years, Little had also become regular at enshrinement ceremonies in Canton, Ohio, for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Little was enshrined in the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2010. A three-time All American at Syracuse, Little was also enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.

“I feel so blessed in everything, and as long as I can I will always come back [to Canton], and I always hope to see many more Broncos here with me as the years go by,” is how Little put it in the summer of 2019 when both Champ Bailey and Broncos owner Pat Bowlen were enshrined. “Football has given me so much, and I will always try to give back in every way to young people who need our help.”

Little, who was the sixth pick of the 1967 AFL-NFL draft by the Broncos, played nine seasons with the Broncos as he rushed for 6,323 yards with 43 touchdowns. Those early years of the Broncos’ franchise — they were one of the original AFL teams in 1960 — were often a struggle on the field as Little starred for teams that didn’t make the playoffs.

The Broncos finished with a winning record just twice in Little’s career — in 1973 and 1974. But he was a five-time Pro Bowl selection.

Little had his No. 44 retired by both Syracuse and the Broncos. With the Broncos, Little was called “the Franchise” because his signing, when players could choose between the NFL and AFL, was credited with keeping the team from relocating in the 1960s and with helping to convince local voters to approve funds to build Mile High Stadium.

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