CINCINNATI -- It took them eight games, nine weeks and several bumps in the road, but the Denver Broncos finally clawed their way back to even keel Sunday with a 24-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
And the Broncos now find themselves at 6-6 with four games to play in a suddenly crowded AFC playoff race where a wild-card spot can still be had for any team that can put things together long enough to get it.
“We’re 6-6, .500 and still got four games left," said linebacker Von Miller. “But these have to be our best four … took a long way to get here and we still got a long way to go."
Even as Denver clings to playoff life, the win came with a crushing injury to Pro Bowl cornerback Chris Harris Jr., which is believed to be a fractured fibula.
Other than Miller, the Broncos have no other player it will be more difficult to live without than Harris. He has been the game’s best slot corner for quite some time and is an elite player on the outside as well.
“It’s hard, everybody in Broncos Country knows what (Harris) means to our secondary and our team," Miller said. “It’s huge."
A lot of what the Broncos design in coverage revolves on where Harris will line up and what they need him to do each week. Without him in the lineup, Bradley Roby will have to play better than ever before and rookie Isaac Yiadom will be asked to grow up with vigor in the weeks to come.
The Broncos are at the .500 mark for the first time since dropping to 2-2 with a Week 4 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 1. It is also their first three-game winning streak of this season, or any season since 2015, and this one has included wins in their past two road games.
Given they had won just one road game in Vance Joseph’s tenure until the current win streak, that is certainly worth noting.
What it all means is the Broncos find themselves in a cluster of teams flailing, scrambling and doing whatever it takes to snag that last playoff spot in the AFC. Folks can start watching what the Baltimore Ravens (7-5), who own a Week 3 win over the Broncos, the Miami Dolphins (6-6) and the Indianapolis Colts (6-6) are up to each week because it now matters.
But the Broncos continued with their recent formula Sunday, and it has worked nicely. They have scored 38 points in the past three games off opponents’ turnovers, including 17 of those against the Bengals.
“Winning the turnover battle again, that’s huge," said quarterback Case Keenum, who went his fourth consecutive game without an interception after throwing 10 in the Broncos’ first eight games. “And if that’s something we continue to do, we’ll be really hard to beat."
They also continue to get a rookie-of-the-year season from running back Phillip Lindsay, who had 127 yards rushing -- including a 65-yard touchdown run -- by the time the third quarter ended. With his two scores Sunday, he has five touchdowns during the win streak.
Keenum was decidedly shaky at times in the game -- he was 2 of 6 passing in the first quarter, 7 of 15 at halftime -- and they’ll need better moving forward if they are really climb into one of those wild-card spots. As rookie running back Royce Freeman put the ball on the ground as the third quarter drew to a close, it was also another reminder that the team often is its own biggest problem.
Toss in a battered defense overall as defensive end Derek Wolfe left Sunday’s game with a rib injury and linebacker Josey Jewell left with an ankle injury. Cornerback Tramaine Brock (ribs), linebacker Brandon Marshall (knee) and linebacker Shaquil Barrett (hip) were already gameday inactives to start the day.
“Everybody else has got to do a little more ..." Keenum said. “It’s not a one-person sport … I think that’s what has been great about this group we have stayed together through thick and thin. We’re battle-tested."
Those are new problems though: new problems for a team that has slogged through the league’s most difficult schedule to get where they are now -- a sometimes flawed team dealing with more than its share of injuries that still has some postseason hope along for the ride.