All the broken tackles and hearts that pinballing rookie Javonte Williams left in his wake Sunday can’t do justice to the elusiveness the Denver Broncos displayed in producing one of the season’s biggest shockers.
The Broncos adroitly avoided two big booby traps on their way to crushing the Dallas Cowboys 30-16 as double-digit road underdogs on Sunday when they joined the Chiefs, Giants and Jaguars as teams that began the day at .500 or worse and beat a division leader.
First, the Broncos escaped another COVID-19 quarterback quagmire like they found themselves in last year when all their QBs were quarantined before their game against the Saints.
Then, they dodged a momentum-swinging turnover thanks to an obscure NFL rule that allowed them to keep 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 up the middle to block Sam Martin’s punt on fourth-and-14 from the Cowboys 17.
The ball bounced off Cowboys cornerback Nahshon Wright’s hands at the 18 and Broncos linebacker Jonas Griffith snared the ball at the 20 and ran to the 28 before being stopped 3 yards shy of the first-down marker.
The crowd of 93,503 erupted into a roar, only to quiet into stupefied silence when Denver got to keep possession because the Cowboys had touched the loose ball beyond the line of scrimmage and the Broncos recovered.
“I actually didn’t know the rule,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.
He should have.
Think back to Thanksgiving night 1993, when Leon Lett touched 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 remaining.
That allowed the Dolphins to kick a second-chance, last-second field goal and win the game. Oddly enough, Miami didn’t win another game that season and the Cowboys didn’t lose again, winning their second straight Super Bowl.
Back to Sunday.
“It sucked that we didn’t get the ball right there,” said Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.
“It’s the height of disappointment,” Jones said. “It’s putting the cake out in front of you and letting you put your finger in the icing and then turning around and taking the whole (thing) back.”
The Broncos got to start over at first-and-10 from their 19 and drove to a 19-0 lead on the last of three field goals from Brandon McManus.
The Broncos would make it 30-0 before the Cowboys finally scored against a bevy of backups.
“That would have been a huge momentum play for us,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said, “especially coming in after halftime, you have a chance to reset your jaw and you get back out there 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 back,” McCarthy said.
Wright should have gotten out of the way, but “I think his instincts took over,” McCarthy said. “He’s a young player and we’ll definitely learn from it. But then, we all understand what the rule is.”
Broncos coach Vic Fangio does, too.
“Yeah, I knew that they had touched it past the line of scrimmage and I wasn’t sure we’d get it,” Fangio said, “but luckily the officials got it right.”
Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones sits on the competition committee and maybe he’ll push to get the rule changed so that the receiving team gets possession if the kicking team recovers the blocked punt but fails to get the first down.
Fangio admitted after his biggest win in 41 games as a head coach that it almost didn’t happen.
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 warmup routine.
The close call had Fangio harkening back to last Nov. 29, when he had to turn to a practice squad receiver as his emergency signal caller when all of his QBs ended up 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 upon landing.
On Monday, the Broncos put him on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Unlike reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers, Lock is vaccinated. So, he can return whenever he tests negative two times, 24 hours apart.
Rodgers tested positive on Wednesday and had to miss the Packers’ showdown with the Chiefs on Sunday. He must test negative to return Nov. 13, the day before Green Bay hosts the Seahawks.
After misleading the public about his vaccination status, Rodgers provided 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 leery of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of rare side effects. He said he received homeopathic treatment from his doctor instead and asked the NFL to count that as being vaccinated. The league declined.
Rodgers said he didn’t wear a mask at his indoor news conferences, as required by the COVID-19 protocols agreed to by the players association, because he thought that particular rule was worthless. And he said he’d taken invermectin, the anti-parasitic that the Food & Drug Administration has dismissed as ineffective in treating COVID-19.
“I’m not some sort of anti-vax flat earther,” Rodgers insisted. “I’m somebody who’s a critical thinker. I march to the beat of my own drum. I believe strongly in bodily autonomy.”
Rodgers lost one endorsement for his anti-vaccination 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 a loss of a draft pick for the team.
With contributions from AP Pro Football Writer Schuyler Dixon and AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins