ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos turned around their fortunes and maybe their season by altering their offensive and defensive fronts.
The changes in the trenches fueled their blowout of the Chiefs, who found themselves down 35-0 in the second quarter Sunday, the biggest first-half deficit in franchise history.
This from a Broncos team that had trailed Oakland 38-0 in their last home game.
During their bye week, the Broncos decided to return to the 3-4 defensive scheme they had ditched because of injuries to Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers and they finally got healthy enough on the offensive line to use the five starters they had envisioned in training camp.
Right tackle Ryan Harris returned from a sprained ankle that had sidelined him for a month and the improvement on the line was dramatic: no penalties, Knowshon Moreno's first 100-yard rushing performance in his 22nd NFL game and Kyle Orton's first four-TD game in his six seasons as a pro.
"Ryan brings a physical attitude, just a real nasty demeanor," Orton said. "I know I feed off it. I think the backs fed off it and I think the whole offensive line likes it."
With Harris back, rookie Zane Beadles moved back to his more natural position, left guard.
The Broncos, who are 3-6 but just two games behind AFC West leaders Kansas City and Oakland, are hopeful they can finish out the season without any more shuffling along the line.
"We absolutely hope that this is going to be a consistent thing for our football team," coach Josh McDaniels said Monday after reviewing film of a victory for the first time since Oct. 4. "It was good to see them get out there and play together and I think they played well as a unit."
Orton was never tackled and the Broncos, the league's worst rushing team, gained a season-high 153 yards on the ground.
"It was the most fun I've had in football in a long, long time," Harris said.
McDaniels had said after the bye week that he would simplify things and he did, not trying anything exotic on either offense or defense.
"I think that was really the best example of a complementary football game that we've put together all year," he said. "I think it's a good thing for our team to be reinforced with what you're really capable of doing when you put three phases together and play well."
Denver also ditched the 4-3 look it had employed after Ayers broke a foot at Baltimore on Oct. 10. Mario Haggan moved from inside linebacker to pass-rushing outside linebacker and recorded three sacks after collecting just four in his first 97 NFL games.
On his third takedown of Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, he stripped the ball and Jason Hunter scooped it up and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown.
Joe Mays replaced Haggan inside and had seven tackles after entering midseason with just four stops.
"I might not be going back to mike linebacker if he keeps playing like that," Haggan said.
The Broncos will keep playing the 3-4 with Haggan in there somewhere.
"That's going to depend on Robert's health and we'll see how Robert progresses here," McDaniels said. "But, that's a big value to our football team that he can go from playing the middle linebacker position most of the year and then all of the sudden we just bump him out there."
When the Broncos jumped ahead by three touchdowns in the first quarter — triple the amount of times they had scored in the first quarter all season — Denver's defenders knew they wouldn't have to spend all afternoon seeing running backs Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones bearing down on them.
The league's top running team managed just 51 yards against the NFL's worst run defense.Comment on this story
Linebacker D.J. Williams, the team's leader in tackles and sacks, sat out the first defensive series as punishment for his arrest on suspicion of drunken driving last week, one that could result in a multi-game suspension from the NFL — but unlikely before next season.
Williams recorded a season-low two tackles and was equally quiet in the locker room after the game when he refused to speak with reporters.
But McDaniels said he liked the way his top tackler responded to his punishment, which included a fine and the team stripping him of his captaincy.
"He handled it like a pro, as a man, and he understood that's not what we want our captains to be like or any of our players to do," McDaniels said. "And I thought that he went out there and he played hard and he did his job. And when he had the opportunity to do some things, he made some plays, too."