DENVER (AP)The end of Denver’s dubious streak of blown halftime leads and the Broncos’ first home victory under coach Sean Payton both came from the most unexpected of sources.
Backup safety P.J. Locke saved the Broncos from another second-half meltdown, intercepting Jordan Love’s deep pass in the closing minutes to preserve a 19-17 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
Locke – subbing for safety Kareem Jackson, who was ejected for the second time this season following an illegal high hit earlier in the fourth quarter on tight end Luke Musgrave – picked off the throw intended for Samori Toure just after the two-minute warning.
“I saw the ball in their air, I was like, ‘It’s mine,'” the fourth-year pro out of Texas said of his first career interception, which came in his 50th NFL game, all as a reserve.
On the play, running back A.J. Dillon was wide open for what would have been a big gain underneath, but Love was looking to go deep on third-and-20 from midfield.
The Broncos (2-5) then ran out the clock with Russell Wilson launching a deep heave on fourth-and-9 from his own 26 after taking the shotgun snap with 6 seconds remaining and the Packers (2-4) out of timeouts.
That gave Payton his first win at home in four tries and snapped the Broncos’ streak of losing 10 consecutive games in which they’d taken a lead into halftime.
Payton wasn’t a celebratory mood, saying, “We’re never happy. You know, we work hard, we want it. … I’m happy we won, I am. I think I was happier before I came in here” to the postgame news conference.
Payton said he’s hopeful of much more meaningful milestones, and he bristled when asked about Denver finally making a halftime lead hold up.
“My team hadn’t blown 10 straight,” Payton said. “So, let’s start by saying, ‘The Denver Broncos historically …’”
When the reporter did just that, Payton cut him off: “Yeah, I don’t pay attention to that.”
Three of those blown halftime leads came on Payton’s watch, and the Broncos frittered away a 9-0 advantage at the midpoint Sunday before Wil Lutz’s fourth field goal, from 52 yards out, with 3:50 remaining put Denver back in front for good.
The Packers quickly approached field-goal range for rookie kicker Anders Carlson, but after A.J. Dillon’s 29-yard catch-and-run, things went sideways for Green Bay. Love was facing third-and-20 from his own 46 when his deep pass was picked off.
The Packers took a 17-16 lead on Love’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Jayden Reed midway through the fourth quarter that went off Romeo Doubs’ hands.
Doubs had pulled the Packers within 16-10 in the third quarter on a 16-yard touchdown catch that both he and cornerback Patrick Surtain II corralled as they tumbled to the ground.
On the broadcast, CBS rules expert Gene Steratore said he believed the touchdown should have been ruled an interception because Surtain had two feet down before Doubs did. Therefore, Steratore argued, Surtain had completed the catch before Doubs had done so.
“That makes me feel better,” Surtain said, “but at the end of the day it was still a touchdown.”
Payton concurred, saying, “I was surprised” it wasn’t ruled an interception on the field or via the NFL’s standard review of all scoring plays. “I think we’re going to see that was something that should have been called the other way,” Payton said.
Refreee Alex Kemp, however, explained to a pool reporter, “We ruled on the field that the Green Bay receiver controlled the ball while airborne and came to the ground and never lost control of the ball and therefore, by rule, it is a touchdown.”
Kemp said simultaneous possession wasn’t ruled on the field but even if it had been, the play still would have resulted in a touchdown.
NFL Senior Vice President of Officiating Walt Anderson said the TD call was confirmed at league headquarters in New York.
“And since the ruling on the field was a touchdown, we reviewed the play for the elements of a catch, which were control and maintaining control when he went to the ground, and then the receiver kept control of the ball,” Anderson said. “There were no views that showed that the receiver ever lost control of the ball from the time he initially possessed it until he completed the catch process on the ground.”
Locke’s interception rendered it a moot point as far as the outcome was concerned.
Wilson rebounded from his worst game as a Bronco a week earlier to throw for 195 yards on 20-of-29 passing with one touchdown, a 18-yarder to Courtland Sutton that gave Denver a 16-3 lead.
Jackson, who’s been fined four times already for illegal hits and drew an ejection against Washington in Week 2, was DQ’d after hitting Musgrave in the head after his 18-yard catch along the Packers sideline early in the fourth quarter.
“I think one of the challenges for Kareem is he’s got some priors,” Payton said. “So, you know, when you get pulled over and you’ve had four or five speeding violations, you’re going to spend a little more time on the side of the road.”
Aaron Jones returned from a pulled hamstring and gained 58 yards on 11 touches, not nearly enough to kick-start Green Bay’s stagnant offense.
During their last four games, the Packers have been outscored a combined 63-6 in the first half.
“We just lost to Denver,” cornerback Rasul Douglas said, his voice dripping with disgust. “Not saying they’re terrible, but come on, we’re supposed to win, man.”
Four Packers were injured in the second quarter: DL Devonte Wyatt (knee), S Darnell Savage (calf), CB Eric Stokes (hamstring) and WR Jayden Reed (shin). Musgrave (ankle) left after the illegal hit by Jackson.
Packers: Host Minnesota next Sunday.
Broncos: Host Kansas City next Sunday.
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