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Broncos are still on a heater but have much to fix to rally from 1-5 start and make playoffs

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Even though the Denver Broncos now boast the NFL's longest active winning streak at four games, their Monday video review featured a lot more roasts than boasts.

"It's not really good,” coach Sean Payton said after watching the Broncos' blooper-filled 21-20 squeaker over the Minnesota Vikings from Sunday night in which they were outplayed, outmuscled and even outwitted (with a fake punt).

“They ran the ball better than us. They were better than us on third down. Better than us in the red zone. And in most areas," Payton said. “Better than us in the kicking game.”

He could have gone on and on, but he had to start checking off boxes on his long list of corrections that need to be made for the Broncos (5-5) to continue their winning ways.

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Among the cringe-producing moments was the unflagged hit on Vikings quarterback Joshua Dobbs on the game's third snap by safety Kareem Jackson, who was returning from a two-game suspension for violating the league's unnecessary roughness rules.

Late Monday, the league suspended Jackson four games without pay after reviewing that hit. Jackson stands to lose $558,000 in wages if the suspension isn't reduced like his first one, which was whittled from four to two games. Jackson has already been fined nearly $100,000 for four illegal hits this season and was suspended for his fifth one, costing him $279,000 in wages.

Despite converting just 2 of 12 third downs, getting outgained on the ground 175 yards to 46, reaching the end zone just once in five trips inside the Vikings 20-yard line and losing the time of possession by nearly 10 minutes, the Broncos ended Minnesota's five-game winning streak.

They did it thanks to a trio of takeaways and Russell Wilson's last-minute magic when he directed Denver's only touchdown drive in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, which culminated with another circus catch from Courtland Sutton.

Yet as the Broncos conducted their first video review without a losing record in 413 days, they saw just how much work remains for them to have a realistic shot at joining the 1970 Bengals, 2015 Chiefs and 2018 Colts as the only teams in the Super Bowl era to overcome a 1-5 start to reach the playoffs.

“There’s a lot of stuff that needs to get cleaned up on offense — a lot,” tight end Adam Trautman said. “We’ve relied on our defense. They look like the best defense in the league right now. So, yeah, we need to flip the script fast on offense.”

The Broncos' special teams came up big, too, with Wil Lutz making all five of his field goal tries a week after his game-winner at Buffalo on a do-over thanks to the Bills having a dozen defenders on the fire-drill field goal try.

WHAT’S WORKING

Denver’s defense has done an about-face since its Miami meltdown in Week 3. The Broncos are allowing 17.4 points over their last five games after allowing 36.2 points over the season’s first five weeks.

WHAT NEEDS WORK

Denver's offense, starting with Payton's play-calling. He's not going for the gusto even on the quick-change situations where the Broncos could better capitalize on their defense's ball-hawking ways. Blame the third-down failures or the execution breakdowns, but the Broncos only ran 15 times Sunday night while throwing it 35 times, not the type of balance they'd been displaying during their recent resurgence.

STOCK UP

Nickel cornerback Ja'Quan McMillian has had a part of four takeaways over the last two games. The emergence of the second-year pro from East Carolina is a big part of Denver's defensive turnaround. He looks like a major find by general manager George Paton.

STOCK DOWN

Jackson. He admitted upon his return from suspension last week that he couldn't guarantee he'd keep from getting in the NFL's crosshairs again for his overly aggressive play, and it didn't take long for him to prove it.

INJURIES

S PJ Locke missed the game with a sprained ankle. Payton said Locke's availability won't be known until late in the week.

KEY NUMBERS

35 — Number of fourth-quarter comebacks by Wilson in the regular season and postseason, which is tied for ninth-most in league history.

13 — Takeaways by the Broncos during their four-game winning streak to go with just two turnovers.

5 — Consecutive games in which Sutton has caught a touchdown pass, a career high, and the number of wins by Wilson, who went 4-11 last year in his first season in Denver.

NEXT STEPS

After surviving tough games against the Chiefs, Bills and Vikings, the Broncos face an even more pestering defense Sunday when the Myles Garrett-led Cleveland Browns (7-3) visit.

___

AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL