DENVER -- If necessity is indeed the mother of invention, then embarrassment just might be the loose-lipped uncle who showed up on the Denver Broncos' doorstep to give the team a piece of his mind.
Because since the Jacksonville Jaguars pounded out 269 yards rushing that dropped the decidedly staggered Broncos to 0-4 with a last-play field goal two weeks ago, the Broncos have raised their defensive hackles a bit. The Broncos have held their past two opponents to 74 yards rushing combined and Sunday put up their first shutout win since 2017.
"In that last quarter and a half, when we were last home here, when our run defense left the stadium too early, I think it embarrassed everybody, me included," said Broncos coach Vic Fangio. "Since that time, we've just played better. We haven't really put anything in new -- one or two things, which I've called once or twice in the last few weeks. Guys have just played better."
Sunday's 16-0 win over the Tennessee Titans, seven days after a 20-13 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, has the 2-4 Broncos looking ahead with hope. They aren't declaring themselves fully repaired, but seven sacks and three forced turnovers against the Titans -- a feat the Broncos had not achieved since 1984 -- at least has them looking forward to Thursday's challenge against the Kansas City Chiefs.
"We're good, we're confident," said linebacker Von Miller. "We've always been confident when we play the Chiefs at home. We're going to celebrate this one, though, for about two hours and then get started on the Kansas City Chiefs."
"I'm hyped up, I can't wait. Y'all don't have to ask me about the Titans anymore, I'm ready for the Chiefs," Chris Harris Jr. said. "It's something I've been looking forward [to] every year. ... This is the ultimate test Thursday night against the best quarterback in the league. We've got to be ready to go."
Since the "embarrassing" loss to the Jaguars, the Broncos have made some changes. They inserted Alexander Johnson at inside linebacker -- Sunday's win was his second consecutive start, and he finished with nine tackles and 1.5 sacks against the Titans -- and Mike Purcell into the middle of their defensive line. Moving Purcell, who has also started both the Broncos' wins, allows Shelby Harris to play defensive end instead.
Kareem Jackson has returned to safety -- again, during both of the Broncos' wins -- after injuries on defense forced him to open the season playing primarily at nickel cornerback. Jackson had 10 tackles and a forced fumble against the Chargers to go with an interception and a tackle for loss against the Titans.
"When you're down on yourself, you just press, press, press, and then you start making mistakes and nothing works out for you," defensive end Derek Wolfe said. "But when you press, press, press and you start winning, it builds your confidence back up, but you just have to keep going."
"Coach Fangio had a hell of a game plan ... he prepared us well," Harris said of the game Sunday.
The Chiefs, even with two consecutive losses, are another matter entirely as the Broncos begin their short week. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has 14 touchdown passes this season -- that's four more than the Broncos have scored overall as a team.
Still, Sunday's shutout is rare and worth celebrating for a team looking to save a season.
"Shutouts are hard to come by in this league," Fangio said. "We need somebody to do an analytic study about how often they do come -- they don't come very often. The only way you get one is to play good, sound defense. Make a play occasionally when you're in one-on-one situations, because those are invariably gonna come up. We made a few of those. We didn't make them all. But the guys were just resilient and had a good mindset."