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Published September 13, 2015
This was almost music to Miami's ears: Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos wanted to rev up their running game at the expense of the passing attack.
The Dolphins boast one of the top rushing defenses in the league, so less of Manning's right arm and more of anything the Broncos had in the backfield seemed like a good trade-off.
C.J. Anderson rushed for 167 of Denver's season-high 201 yards on the ground in a 39-36 win over the Dolphins on Sunday.
Manning did his part, too, throwing four touchdown passes, including three to Demaryius Thomas.
"They were probably expecting a few more passes and we were effective with the run," Manning said.
That run-first approach, though, did catch Miami (6-5) off guard. Not so much that the Broncos (8-3) tried to run the ball so much against Miami's eighth-ranked rushing defense — averaging 5.7 yards per carry — but that it actually worked.
"They're known for throwing the ball all over the place. But they had a plan to run the ball and control the game like that," cornerback Brent Grimes said. "They did a good job of it.
"If you want to beat a team like the Broncos, who went the Super bowl last year and are contenders this year, you've got to play your best game. We didn't do that today."
Miami didn't play poorly across the board; hardly any team would complain about scoring 36 points on the road. And the Dolphins led most of the game, until Anderson scored on a 10-yard run with 5:01 remaining to give Denver a 32-28 advantage.
Ryan Tannehill was moving Miami for the go-ahead score, but he threw an interception that deflected off Jarvis Landry's hands and straight to Broncos safety T.J. Ward.
Two plays later, Manning found Wes Welker for a short touchdown to give the Broncos a 39-28 cushion, which came in handy after Tannehill found Landry for a late score.
Anderson recovered the onside kick and the Broncos were able to run out the clock.
"All the points we put up, all that we did, it doesn't matter if we can't make those plays in clutch time to win games," said Landry, who had two TD catches.
Indeed, that interception was costly.
Asked what happened on the play, Landry simply responded, "Just those guys making a play. That's it."
Tannehill saw things a little different, especially with cornerback Chris Harris all over Landry on the play.
"Looked like Jarvis' arm got pulled down right when the ball got there," said Tannehill, who finished three TD passes and ran for another. "Close call. They didn't throw the flag."
For three quarters, Tannehill was outplaying No. 18. Even when his team led 28-17 late in the third, Tannehill knew that was hardly enough offense.
Not against Manning.
"I have faith in our defense, but at the same time, we have a lot of respect for this team and the high-powered offense that they have," Tannehill said. "We knew coming in it was probably going to be a high-scoring game.
"During crunch situation we didn't put points on the board when we needed to."
Or stop Anderson, who only got stronger as the game wore on.
"As we all know, football is still a game of blocking and tackling," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. "At first glimpse, they blocked us relatively well. Don't know if we tackled great."
Same assessment from safety Reshad Jones.
"We did miss a lot of tackles," he said. "Got to do better."
One of the backbreaking plays for the Dolphins was when Denver converted on fourth-and-2 at the Miami 41 late in the third. Anderson rumbled for 20 yards to keep the drive going. Manning eventually hit Thomas for a 5-yard TD to give the Broncos momentum and rev up the crowd.
"We thought we were in control for most of the game," said Jimmy Wilson, part of a defense that allowed the Broncos to convert nine of 13 third downs. "We had our opportunities. We have to learn to finish better."
NOTES: LT Ja'Wuan James suffered a stinger on a play in the first half and didn't return. "I'm going to be all right. That's all I'm going to say," James said. ... WR Mike Wallace caught a 10-yard TD reception in the second quarter. ... CB Jamar Taylor went out with a shoulder injury in the third quarter. He was starting in place of Cortland Finnegan, who was deactivated before the game with an aching ankle.