ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Trevor Siemian had already had his career game -- at least to this point -- by the time the third-and-11 play call came in from the Denver sideline with 4:32 remaining and the Broncos clinging to a five-point lead at Cincinnati on Sunday.
Demaryius Thomas was to run a go-route. And Siemian was to throw it downfield to him, taking the kind of deep shot the Broncos had rarely attempted through the first two games of the regular season.
Early in the second quarter, Siemian had completed a 41-yard deep pass to Emmanuel Sanders, who ran a double move past Bengals cornerback Adam Jones for the score. But on this play, Jones was out because of cramps. Chris Lewis-Harris was in at right cornerback. And the Broncos knew they had a matchup they could exploit.
Siemian stepped into the huddle with the call relayed through his in-helmet radio receiver.
"He said, 'We're about to go for the gusto,'" Sanders said.
Siemian admitted he didn't recall whether he used the word "gusto," but the point was clear.
"He said it in the huddle: 'Man, if I put this up, are you going to make a play?'" recalled running back C.J. Anderson. "D.T. (Thomas) told him, 'Yeah.'"
Seconds later, Thomas had a step on Lewis-Harris, and the ball sailed toward him. He grabbed it at the Cincinnati 14 and scampered the rest of the way for the 55-yard touchdown that provided the final 29-17 margin.
"The main thing was catch the ball first, and he didn't tackle me," said Thomas, "so I just went into the end zone."
But the bigger thing for the Broncos was the knowledge that Siemian can deliver the big throw when it is most needed. He was 9-of-10 passing for 159 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, giving him a perfect 158.3 rating.
"I know he's a young quarterback, but he doesn't act like it," Sanders said. "He's always poised. He's always calm, cool and collected."
In the first two games, he was accurate, but defined by interceptions. He nearly had two passes picked off Sunday, so that remains a cause for concern. But in the fourth quarter, he became more than just a starting quarterback; he became the reason why the Broncos won in a tough environment.
REPORT CARD VS. BENGALS:
PASSING OFFENSE: A - Trevor Siemian answered questions about his ability to go deep and his timing with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders with two deep touchdown strikes. But just as valuable was the trust he engendered in the coaches. With a five-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, coach Gary Kubiak opted to come out throwing with Siemian, and he found Jeff Heuerman for a 29-yard gain on the first play of that series. The more Siemian does, the more confidence his coaches will have in him -- and the more confidence he will gain.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus - There were no turnovers, but the Broncos were forced to go away from the ground game early as the Bengals crowded the box and dared Siemian to throw. The gamble backfired for the Bengals, but the combined production of just 45 yards on 18 carries for C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker was easily a season-low.
PASS DEFENSE: A - Only a late-game drive in which Andy Dalton went 7-of-8 passing for 85 yards while behind two scores kept the Broncos from a statistical line that reflected their dominance in neutralizing Cincinnati's passing game. The Broncos cranked up the pressure on Dalton, sacking him four times -- including two on consecutive plays in the third quarter that took the Bengals out of field-goal range after recovering a Demaryius Thomas fumble.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus - After the first series, it looked like the Broncos were headed to their worst performance against the run in quite some time, as Jeremy Hill carried the football four times for 65 yards on the Bengals' first five plays. But Hill had just 32 yards on 14 carries from that point forward, and even though the Bengals still had 143 yards on 29 carries, they needed Andy Dalton's 40 yards on six scrambles to reach that point.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C - Margus Hunt's blocked extra point and Kapri Bibbs' late hit were lapses that tainted an otherwise solid special teams performance. Punter Riley Dixon delivered long, high blasts when they were needed, although he failed at a chance to pin the Bengals deep in their own territory late with a punt that bounced into the end zone. Dixon ranks 11th in net punting yardage so far this season, so he has been solid in the big picture.
COACHING: A - In-game adjustments helped the Broncos last year, and they provided the difference again Sunday. The Bengals came out running, so the Broncos stacked the box and counted on their cornerbacks to handle Cincinnati's receivers in man-to-man coverage. As a result, the Bengals' offense gradually stalled, and mustered just a single field goal in the second half. Offensively, the Broncos began beating the Bengals over the top when they committed a safety into the box to try and contain the ground game.