Rookie of the Year front-runner Phillip Lindsay powering Broncos' playoff run

Dec 03, 2018 | by Jeff Legwold, ESPN

CINCINNATI -- Oh, Phillip Lindsay might be powering the offense on a Denver Broncos team that suddenly finds itself in the league's postseason race.

And, sure, he might be on the doorstep of a 1,000-yard rushing season, sitting at 937 yards with four games to play. He might even lead the league in yards per carry at the moment with 6.1, but Lindsay still can't get any significant couch time in the Broncos' complex.

"[The Broncos defensive line] has got this couch, and rookies aren't supposed to be on it, but I'm always on it," Lindsay said with a laugh. "They throw me off, and when they turn their back, I get back on. ... But they're not going to let me on the couch until next year."

Ah, the life of a rookie. But Lindsay, who is fourth in the league in rushing, has done plenty of the heavy lifting of late, as the Broncos now have a three-game win streak with Sunday's 24-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium. Lindsay finished out the game with a career-best 157 yards rushing to go with two touchdowns, including a 65-yard sprint around the left sideline for a third-quarter score.

It was Lindsay's third 100-yard rushing game of the season, but his second in the past two games. He has scored five touchdowns in the current winning streak, and the undrafted rookie continues to win friends and influence people up and down the Broncos' roster.

"He's just out of this world," Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. " ... I see it every day -- Phil is Phil, and everybody can see that now."

"I think you judge lead backs by their durability, and he's been available every week," Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. "Everyone sees his size, and everyone's amazed of what he's doing right now ... he's a tough guy, he's fast through the hole. ... He gets to the second level with speed, and it's hard to tackle a back like that. He's been impressive; his maturity, his mentality, it's been impressive how tough he is."

The 5-foot-8, 190-pounder has averaged more than 7 yards per carry in each of the team's past three wins and has had at least one run of at least 32 yards in each victory. And week after week, game after game, Lindsay keeps expanding his role in the offense as he helps a team that was 3-6 get into the thick of the playoff race.

He had 67 yards on his first 12 carries on Sunday before Keenum spun to hand him the ball on a first-and-10 from the Broncos' 35-yard line as Denver was trying to build on a 14-3 lead. With left tackle Garett Bolles out front, Lindsay flanked the Bengals' defense, launching himself through a gap and sprinting untouched up the sideline for a 65-yard score.

"I think I keep answering the same questions about Phillip after every game," Keenum said. "He's a guy -- I don't know what else to say about him except the league knows about him, I think opponents know about him ... he ought to be in the Rookie of the Year category, Pro Bowl, all that stuff, he deserves it ... he's a special dude."

But it's not just Lindsay's double-take-worthy speed and decisiveness as a runner -- or even the growing pile of touchdowns -- that have won his teammates over. They like all of that, but it’s Lindsay's approach that they keep pointing to, how he acts in the days before and in the days after he blows up in a game.

Lindsay is a Denver South High School graduate, went to the University of Colorado and is the first player from the Broncos' middle school football program to go on to play for the team. He lets one of his linemen spike the ball after he scores. On Sunday, Joseph tried to give Lindsay a game ball, but Keenum said: "He didn't want it, he wanted to give it to the offensive line."

"[The offensive line] is doing a great job ... they're doing a great job, I can't stress that enough," Lindsay said. "They actually get mad if I don't get 5 yards. ... It's not about me, it's about the team."

Lindsay has consistently credited his parents and four siblings for his approach to the game and how he makes his way through all of the growing attention. His teammates have embraced him, and the defensive line that won’t let him on the furniture has dubbed him "Pit Bull" out of respect for what they've seen from him. As Lindsay said, "When the defensive line gives you a nickname, you take it."

The Broncos have four games remaining in the regular season and a puncher's chance at a playoff spot if they hold up their end of the bargain. Lindsay figures to be right in that mix, and nobody is happier than he is about everything, even as folks have moved on from questions about his size to ones about the "rookie wall."

"When you're trying to win games and go to the playoffs," Lindsay said, "you don't have time for a rookie wall."

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