ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Denver Broncos entered Monday night’s matchup with the Buffalo Bills as an underdog, albeit one with a major opportunity.
At 3-5 but carrying a two-game winning streak into Highmark Stadium, Sean Payton’s squad had a chance to add its name to a crowded list of hopefuls in the AFC playoff picture, where a whopping 13 teams were situated between three and five losses headed into Monday night.
The Broncos delivered on that opportunity, winning 24-22 and raising hopes that the momentum can carry Denver through the second half of the season.
The Broncos snapped a seven-game losing streak on “Monday Night Football,” and won their first MNF road game since Oct. 15, 2012 at the San Diego Chargers.
Here are the most important things to know from Monday night for both teams.
QB breakdown: Russell Wilson was far from spectacular, but was efficient and gave the Broncos a chance to win. Wilson completed 24 of 29 passes for 192 yards and a pair of touchdowns without a turnover, also using his legs to the tune of nine carries for 30 yards. Wilson’s numbers were recorded in the face of constant pressure — he was pressured on 53% of his dropbacks Monday, his highest in a game since 2018. Wilson was also sacked four times by the Bills, including what could have been a costly one to take Denver out of field goal range on its final drive.
Promising trend: After recording seven takeaways in their first seven games, the Broncos have nine in their last two outings. That included four takeaways on Monday night, including a Justin Simmons first-quarter interception that marked his NFL-leading 30th pick since 2016.
Troubling trend: The mishandled point-after by Broncos holder Riley Dixon could have haunted Denver’s nightmares, and was emblematic of struggles in the kicking game. Wil Lutz missed a point-after and might have lost the game with a missed field goal in the closing seconds … had Buffalo not been flagged for 12 men on the field. But it was Dixon who might have breathed the biggest sigh of relief. After his miscue, Josh Allen proceeded to drive the Bills down the field for the go-ahead score but was redeemed only by Lutz’s second shot at a game-winner.
Eye-popping NextGen stat: Courtland Sutton’s second-quarter touchdown catch had a 3.2% completion probability, the lowest on any NFL touchdown pass over the last seven seasons (2017-present). The prior lowest completion probability on a passing TD was also thrown by Russell Wilson — then with the Seahawks — 5.3% to Tyler Lockett in Week 5 of the 2019 season vs. the Los Angeles Rams. What’s more, 3.2% is the lowest completion probability on any completion in that span, per ESPN Stats & Info. — ESPN staff
Next game: vs. Vikings (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday)
The first play of the game couldn’t have gone any worse for the Buffalo Bills.
After taking with the ball — going against coach Sean McDermott’s typical trend of deferring to the second half — running back James Cook fumbled on the first play after catching a pass from quarterback Josh Allen and gave the Broncos a golden opportunity. Denver seized it and went on to upset the Bills, 24-22, Monday night.
The Bills came in needing a win ahead of the second-toughest remaining strength of schedule to end the season.
Instead, the game was error-filled and messy from start to finish with a season-high tying four turnovers. Allen had one of his worst performances of the season with two interceptions (one on a drop by wide receiver Gabe Davis), one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown. Allen finished 15 of 26 passing for 177 yards.
Cook did redeem himself. After being benched for several drives, the second-year rusher came back and made a key play on the final Bills scoring drive, recovering his own fumble on a run that ultimately resulted in a 42-yard gain. He finished as the first Bills running back with multiple 100-yard rushing games in a season sine LeSean McCoy in 2017 (four).
Biggest hole in the game plan: First-half offense. Since Week 5, the Bills have five touchdowns and eight first half turnovers (leading the league). Against the Broncos, the first four drives were fumble, interception, punt and punt, allowing Denver to take an early lead.
Troubling trend: Drops. The Bills had three drops on the first four drives of the game, and wide receiver Stefon Diggs added another on the first drive of the second half. Drops were a big issue for the Bills last season as they led the league with 34, but entering Monday night, Buffalo had eight on the season.
Buy on a breakout performance: Bills defensive backups and new additions. With three defensive starters on injured reserve and two more out with injuries, this was a test for this version of the Bills defense. Once again, the group did its job, even with the late touchdown drive, while the offense struggled. Cornerback Rasul Douglas had a fumble recovery (forced by nickel corner Taron Johnson) that led to a Bills touchdown drive and the unit allowed six points off four Bills turnovers. — Alaina Getzenberg
Next game: vs. Jets (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)