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Mike McCoy's offensive makeover on display in Broncos' win

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DENVER -- He stood in the parking lot outside the south tunnel of the stadium where his team had just demolished the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, cavorting with family members and friends and his extended Denver Broncos family -- players, coaches and their loved ones and guests, all of them celebrating a job well done.

Yet Mike McCoy, the Broncos' former and current offensive coordinator, the man whose prescient play calls had helped Denver put up five touchdowns on their favored foes before the six-minute mark of the third quarter, wasn't smiling now. After temporarily breaking away from his wife, Kellie, and their teenaged children, Liv and Luke, he reflected back not on the Broncos' offensive onslaught against a perceived NFC power, but on the points that got away.

"We should have put up 50," McCoy said, flashing an ice-cold glare. "Look, I want to score every single time we have the ball, and then I want to score some more -- that's my mentality, and that's how I approach it. I love our defense, and they're capable of carrying us, but I'm trying to give them as much of a cushion as I can. So I'm going to try to get the ball in the end zone, until (head coach Vance Joseph) tells me to stop.'

If that sounds like a different Mike McCoy than the flummoxed mentor who finished out a four-year stint as the San Diego Chargers' head coach Jan. 1 with a 5-11 record and a pink slip -- well, a lot has happened in nine months, beginning with an apparent offensive rebirth in the Mile High City that has his fingerprints all over it. And if he's engaging in a sort of touchdown therapy as he attempts to reboot his career, well, the man makes no apologies.

This, Broncos fans, is the real McCoy.

"I'm just doing what I love," he said, "in a place that feels like home."

So yeah, you'd best believe McCoy wanted to drop 50 on the Cowboys on Sunday. As it turned out, t he Broncos' offense tapped out at 35, with cornerback Aqib Talib's 103-yard interception return with 53 seconds remaining providing the final points of a 42-17 victory. And while McCoy may not have been satisfied, most of the 76,919 fans at Sports Authority (Please Rename Me Because I Am Defunct) Field went home smiling, despite having endured a 62-minute lightning delay late in the first quarter.

The Denver offense lit it up before and after that stoppage, and in the game's immediate aftermath, Broncos players on both sides of the ball gave glowing praise to the man who, in his previous stint with the franchise, managed to move the chains with both Peyton Manning and Tim Tebow as his quarterbacks.

"Oh man -- how do you want me to even start?" asked receiver Demaryius Thomas, who helped torment an undermanned Cowboys secondary with six receptions for 71 yards. "Mike is super aggressive. He knows how to outscheme people, and he's trying to put up as many points as he can. He wants the players to come to him during the game and tell him what we think will work. If we bring it to him and he sees it, he'll try it."

Said cornerback Chris Harris Jr., whose third-quarter interception of Dak Prescott and 23-yard return set up the Broncos' fifth touchdown: "As soon as we hired Mike McCoy, I knew it was over. He's all about matchups, and he'll find a weak link and attack that person. You never know who's going to make the play, who's gonna score the touchdown, because it all comes down to matchups. And he's gonna change it up every week. That's why we love him."

Then Harris stated what many of his teammates have said privately for the past year, even before last January's surprising retirement of former Broncos coach Gary Kubiak, who had guided the team to its Super Bowl 50 victory over the Carolina Panthers in February of 2016.

"We just needed a new scheme, man," Harris said.

While Kubiak, who now works as a senior personnel advisor for the Broncos, remains respected and well-liked within the building, many Denver players believed things had gotten stale on the offensive side of the ball, contributing to growing locker room tension between the two units. The Broncos missed the playoffs in 2016, finishing with a disappointing 9-7 record.

In July, Talib and others spoke favorably of the fresh approach brought by Joseph, a rookie head coach who spent last season as the Miami Dolphins' defensive coordinator, and also lauded the energizing presence of McCoy and first-time defensive coordinator Joe Woods.

Now the Broncos (2-0) are tied with the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders atop the highly competitive AFC West, with a defense that looks as fierce as ever and -- just maybe -- an offense capable of doing some heavy lifting of its own.

"It feels so good, man, because last year it wasn't like that," cornerback Bradley Roby said. "We know how good we are on defense, and now to see our offense do that? If they're on and we're on ... Super Bowl, man."

Obviously, there's a long way to go in the 2017 NFL season, but Roby and his teammates have reasons for their optimism, all of which were on display Sunday. The Broncos flexed their defensive might from the start, swallowing up the Cowboys' vaunted running attack (star halfback Ezekiel Elliott was held to 8 yards on nine carries) and keeping Dez Bryant and the other Dallas wideouts from catching a pass longer than 15 yards.

Meanwhile, with the Cowboys reeling from injuries to cornerbacks Orlando Scandrick (who sat out with a hand issue), Chidobe Awuzie (who went out early after hurting his hamstring) and Nolan Carroll (who left midway through the second quarter with a concussion), McCoy exploited Dallas' two-deep zone by feeding the ball to halfback C.J. Anderson, who powered his way to 118 yards on 25 carries, reaching the end zone on a 16-yard reception and again on a 23-yard run. Former Chiefs star Jamaal Charles added 46 yards on nine carries against a Dallas team that ranked first against the run in 2016, when the Cowboys rolled to an NFC-best 13-3 record.

"I don't know if they expected that," Thomas said. "Every time we play an NFC team that's considered a powerhouse, people [underestimate] us, just like when we played the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl. Usually, the game is in [the Cowboys'] hands -- they're running the ball and controlling the clock. We ended all that."

Anderson, too, heralded McCoy's presence when assessing the Broncos' newly discovered offensive might.

"In the other scheme, it was, 'we're gonna run what we run,'" Anderson said of Kubiak's system. "This one is, 'we're gonna put our athletes in the best position to make plays.'"

It helped that third-year quarterback Trevor Siemian was assertive and accurate, completing 22 of 31 passes for 231 yards and four touchdowns, including two to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (six catches, 62 yards) -- both on plays, incidentally, that McCoy added to the game plan Thursday night. It was the second strong performance in six days for Siemian, who beat out 2016 first-round draft pick Paxton Lynch in training camp, the second consecutive year he has been the somewhat-surprising winner of a summer competition.

"They better stop sleeping on my dawg -- Broncos country included," said Harris, whose deployment at safety confused the Cowboys early in the game. "Trevor is a great quarterback. As long as you give him time, he's gonna dot you up. Don't even get me started."

Said McCoy: "Trevor's in a good place, because whatever situation arises, we give him answers. And I expect him to keep improving."

Given that, six years ago, McCoy helped spur Tebow to one of the most unlikely single-season success stories in football history, it's not surprising that his expectations are lofty. And on Sunday, when the Broncos got the ball back at their own 42 with 2:10 left in the third quarter and a 35-10 lead, the coordinator was channeling Thomas' iconic 80-yard catch-and-run of a Tebow slant pass that gave the Broncos an overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 2011 playoff game.

Instead of replicating that magic, Siemian threw an interception to cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who returned it 25 yards to set up Prescott's 28-yard scoring pass to ageless tight end Jason Witten.

After the game, as we spoke privately near his locker, Thomas took the blame.

"My f--- up," Thomas said. "It was a miscommunication, and I wasn't where Trevor expected me to be. Instead of running a post and stopping, I should have broken it off and run a 'thimble' -- it's actually very similar to what I ran in that playoff game when I caught the pass from Tebow. We sucked up the linebacker, and nobody was on the backside -- and I probably would have gone the distance this time, too. That was on me."

McCoy knows all about missed opportunities. After taking the Chargers job before the 2013 season, McCoy led San Diego to a surprising playoff berth in his first year and guided the team to a first-round road upset of the Cincinnati Bengals. However, the rest of his tenure was marred by untimely injuries and a slew of defeats in close games. And with the franchise preparing to move from San Diego to Los Angeles after the 2016 season, his dismissal was hardly surprising.

Seven teams reached out to gauge McCoy's interest in serving as an offensive coordinator, but he made it clear that the Broncos were far and away his first choice.

"I love the organization," he said Sunday night. "I love the city. Demaryius and Emmanuel are here. It was a no-brainer."

McCoy, who didn't call plays during his time with the Chargers, has been energized by the return to doing what he loves best -- with very few distractions.

"We decided to have a new house built in San Diego, which was obviously a genius move," McCoy said as he stood near his SUV in the parking lot, drawing a laugh from Kellie. "She and the kids decided to stay back [in San Diego], so that Liv could finish her senior year of high school, and I've basically thrown myself into the job. The house isn't finished yet, and I'm gone, and the Chargers are gone ... but it's gonna be really cool when they get it done."

In the meantime, McCoy is spearheading an extreme offensive makeover in a city where he's apparently needed, and the Broncos are hoping they can build on a very promising start to 2017.

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @mikesilver.

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