All the broken tackles and hearts that pinball rookie Javonte Williams left in its wake Sunday cannot do justice to the elusiveness the Denver Broncos showed in producing one of the biggest shocks of the season.
The Broncos deftly avoided two major booby traps en route to crushing the Dallas Cowboys 30-16 as double-digit underdogs on Sunday, when they joined the Chiefs, Giants and Jaguars as teams starting the day at .500 or worse, beating a division leader.
First, the Broncos escaped another COVID-19 quarterback swamp like they found themselves last year when all of their QBs were quarantined for their game against the Saints.
Then they dodged a momentum-swinging turnover thanks to an obscure NFL rule that allowed them to retain possession after a blocked punt by an unblocked Dallas defender.
Trailing 16-0 at the break, the Cowboys forced a three-and-out to start the second half and Malik Turner came free through the middle to block Sam Martin’s punt on the fourth and 14 of the Cowboys 17.
The ball bounced off the hands of Cowboys cornerback Nahshon Wright at the 18 and Broncos linebacker Jonas Griffith tied the ball at the 20 and ran to the 28 before being stopped 3 yards from the first-down marker.
The crowd of 93,503 erupted into a roar, then fell to stunned silence as Denver gained possession after the Cowboys hit the loose ball past the line of scrimmage and the Broncos recovered.
“I didn’t actually know the rule,” said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
He should have.
Think back to Thanksgiving night 1993 when Leon Lett hit a blocked field goal on a snowy field at the old Texas Stadium, the one with the hole in the roof, and Miami’s Jeff Dellenbach recovered it with 3 seconds to go.
That enabled the Dolphins to get a second chance, kick a field goal in the last second and win the game. Strangely enough, Miami didn’t win another game that season and the Cowboys didn’t lose again, winning their second consecutive Super Bowl.
Back to Sunday.
“It sucked that we didn’t get the ball right there,” said Cowboys, who drove back Ezekiel Elliott.
“It’s the height of disappointment,” Jones said. “It’s putting the cake out in front of you and getting your finger in the icing and then turning around and taking the whole (thing) back.”
The Broncos again started first and 10 from their 19, riding to a 19-0 lead over Brandon McManus’ last of three field goals.
The Broncos would make it 30-0 before the Cowboys finally scored against a bevy of backups.
“That would have been a huge momentum for us,” said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, “especially if you come in after halftime, you have a chance to reset your jaw and you come back out and you get three-and- out and block the punt and you’re in scoring position, you’re on the board and maybe you do something with that momentum.
But he knew the rule.
“Yeah, I had one in Baltimore a few years ago,” McCarthy said.
Wright should have gotten out of the way, but “I think his instincts took over,” McCarthy said. “He is a young player and we will certainly learn from it. But then we all understand what the rule is.”
Broncos coach Vic Fangio does too.
“Yeah, I knew they made it past scrimmage and I wasn’t sure we were going to get it,” Fangio said, “but luckily the officials were right.”
Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones is on the game committee and perhaps he will push to change the rule so that the receiving team gains possession if the kicking team regains the blocked point but fails to knock the first one down.
Fangio admitted it almost didn’t happen after his biggest win in 41 games as head coach.
Denver had a pregame scare when backup quarterback Drew Lock was ruled out after testing positive for COVID-19, and there was an error in Teddy Bridgewater’s test that forced him to delay his warm-up routine.
The close call reminded Fangio of last November 29, when he had to turn to a practice crew receiver as his distress caller when all of his QBs fell under COVID-19 protocols.
Lock had learned during the team flight to Denver that someone close to him had the virus, so he was isolated and tested on landing.
On Monday, the Broncos put him on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Unlike reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers, Lock has been vaccinated. So he can come back when he tests negative twice, 24 hours apart.
Rodgers tested positive on Wednesday and had to miss the Packers’ clash with the Chiefs on Sunday. He must test negative to return on Nov. 13, the day before Green Bay hosts the Seahawks.
After misleading the public about his vaccination status, Rodgers gave a 45-minute explanation Friday during his regular appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show on YouTube and SiriusXM.”
Rodgers said he was allergic to an ingredient in the mRNA vaccines and suspicious of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of rare side effects. He said he was getting homeopathic treatment from his doctor instead and asked the NFL to consider that vaccinated. The competition declined.
Rodgers said he did not wear a mask during his indoor press conferences, as required by the COVID-19 protocols agreed upon by the players’ association, as he found that particular rule worthless. And he said he had taken invermectin, the antiparasitic drug that the Food & Drug Administration has dismissed as ineffective in treating COVID-19.
“I’m not some kind of anti-vax flat earther,” Rodgers insisted. “I am someone who thinks critically. I march to the beat of my own drum. I strongly believe in physical autonomy.”
Rodgers lost one endorsement for his anti-vaccine stance and was mocked on “SNL.” The league is investigating Rodgers and the Packers for COVID-19 violations that could result in fines for both and the loss of a draft pick for the team.
With contributions from AP Pro Football Writer Schuyler Dixon and AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins.
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