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Big plays by Broncos defense vs. Dolphins not enough to cover up fresh round of bruises

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The last vestiges of a championship defense died here Sunday in the clumps of grass left in Kenyan Drake’s wake.

The Dolphins running back had rushed for only 200 yards in 11 games this season. But he ran for 120 yards in Miami’s 35-9 victory over the death-spiraling Broncos, including a 42-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that ended whatever slight hope floated in the humid air.

“It’s about being mano-a-mano, coming in and asserting your dominance,” Drake said. “I think we were able to do that.”

The Broncos were run over Sunday by one of the worst offenses in the NFL, a unit that had been shut out twice already this season for a team that was on a five-game losing streak. Though the Denver defense still features a handful of players who helped the Broncos win Super Bowl 50, it’s a unit that is no longer recognizable, least of all to members of that title-winning squad.

“What is Broncos football?” linebacker Von Miller asked afterward, a question that has hung, unanswered for months, like a hidden leak. “We have to find that. We have to grind and get back to whatever it is. You can’t say Broncos football is whatever we did in 2015. That’s two years ago. We’ve got to find an identity. We’ve got to find the guys that are ready to take their game to the next level.”

The Broncos defense was without three starters Sunday. Nose tackle Domata Peko (knee), defensive end Derek Wolfe (neck) and cornerback Aqib Talib (suspension) all missed the trip, and their absences stung. Still, the ravaged unit fought. Defensive end Shelby Harris, starting in place of Wolfe, had a sack of Jay Cutler and had a tackle of Drake for a 5-yard loss in the first quarter. Bradley Roby, starting for Talib, forced a fumble. Chris Harris had an acrobatic interception and Justin Simmons returned an interception for a touchdown in the third quarter that cut the lead to 19-9.

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