Saturday night in his hotel room, quarterback Brett Rypien worked on the art of deception.
Show the ball, hide it, then play it cool. Stay patient, trust it.
Easy enough when an office chair and a nightstand are the only threats.
A little bit different when you’ve been sacked seven times and JJ Watt has crushed you twice and also forced a fumble. A little bit different when you’re making your second start of the season and third of your four-year career.
A little bit different when you’re trying to help your team snap a five-game losing streak.
Rypien, though, pulled it off Sunday. He stayed patient while Eric Tomlinson blocked for a beat. He trusted he could nonchalantly look away and not get blindsided. After the fake, he popped up and hit the little-used tight end in the back corner of the end zone for the put-away score in Denver’s sigh-of-relief 24-15 win Sunday against Arizona.
“I’ve got to give all the credit to (head coach Nathaniel) Hackett on that one,” Rypien said. “We’ve run that play for a while and we ran it Friday in practice and I kind of came out of it too early, got my head up. He did a great job of coaching me up on that and he was just saying, ‘trust it, trust it, trust it.
“‘Your fake is going to make the play.’”
It did, and it capped a stretch of three touchdowns in four drives for the Broncos in the second half. Combined with Denver’s defensive star power showing out against back-up Cardinals quarterbacks Colt McCoy and Trace McSorely – safety Justin Simmons logged a pair of interceptions and Pat Surtain II added his second in as many weeks – and it was enough.
“It feels great. This team has had a lot of adversity this year,” Hackett said. “Through the injuries, through the close games and it has been great to see them all stick together, fight for each other and continually battle.”
The Broncos’ second-half offensive surge came thanks to a cast of characters they could not have imagined they’d be counting on back when they beat the 49ers nearly three months ago.
Denver’s three touchdowns: A three-yard Marlon Mack run, a 10-yard Latavius Murray run and the three-yard pass to Tomlinson.
Murray and Mack joined the franchise in Weeks 5 and 8, respectively, as injuries piled up. On Sunday, they combined for 205 total yards and two touchdowns. The performance earned Murray, who rushed for 130 yards and went beyond 6,000 for his NFL career, his first post-game locker room game ball in his 132nd career outing.
“He was on one today,” Hackett said.
Mack hadn’t scored a touchdown in the NFL since rupturing his Achilles in Week 1 of the 2020 season. Now he’s scored in back-to-back weeks.
Tomlinson, nicknamed “Viking” because of his long hair, bushy beard and penchant for doing the dirty work, is essentially a glorified offensive lineman. He’s never caught more than eight passes in a season and came into Sunday’s game with five receptions for 48 yards in this one. Teammates whoop and holler when he catches balls in the Broncos’ routes-on-air practice periods.
So when he secured a touchdown as part of a three-catch, 23-yard outing Sunday, it set off quite a celebration.
“We always joke around whenever he comes into the huddle that we’re about to run power or we’re about to run some (stuff) like that. Some downhill run,” center Graham Glasgow said. “When you do what we do, just blocking, they don’t really notice when you have a good block. That’s fine.
“In a way, he’s almost an offensive lineman and people don’t recognize the good stuff he does. … I’m happy for him. I’m glad to see him get rewarded.”
The Broncos (4-10) got rewarded, too, if only for a day. Their season of misery might have sent them packing for the offseason long ago.
Instead, they’ve stayed around. Maybe even learned a thing or two. Like, for instance, to stick with a running game that’s been inconsistent this season but against the Cardinals churned out a season-high 168 yards (4.9 per carry).
Rypien was 21-of-26 for 197 yards and dropped back 33 times (seven sacks) compared to 34 rush attempts.
Earlier this season, Hackett might have fallen to temptation when Denver fell behind 9-3 in the third quarter, as manageable a deficit as that sounds and as beatable as the Cardinals were. Sunday, he and play-caller Klint Kubiak didn’t. The final 16 snaps of the third quarter split evenly between run and pass and they ran it 12 times in 16 fourth-quarter snaps before Rypien found himself in victory formation.
“When you’re in it, sometimes (coaches are) like, ‘Oh man, that run didn’t work, time to pass it’ or we call another run and it doesn’t work and ‘We need to pass now,’” Glasgow said. “Credit to them for making the adjustments for seeing it was working and going with it.”
There’s no salvaging this season for Denver on a broader level, but the backup, the Viking, the mercenary running back duo, the makeshift offensive line and the rest of the folks in the building won’t worry about that — for a few hours at least.
“There’s always something to play for,” Rypien said. “I know other people have their opinions, but this is the NFL. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that, you’re not going to be around for very long, even if you have a great career. … That attitude has never changed in our locker room. We have guys that want to go out there and we want to play hard and win every single week.”