The high-flying Broncos finally discovered a defense, generating a pass rush that sent Brian Griese to the sideline with an injured throwing shoulder and yet another bad memory of Denver.
Jay Cutler guided a patient Denver offense to a 16-13 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who lost their starting quarterback on a cornerback blitz in the third quarter.
Griese, making his first visit to Invesco Field since his five frustrating years in Denver as John Elway's successor, never looked at Champ Bailey barreling in on him from his right side and was smothered at the goal line just as he released the ball late in the third quarter.
He stayed down for a minute and was helped to the sideline.
Griese was replaced by the more mobile Jeff Garcia, the man he supplanted after a loss to New Orleans in the opener, but Garcia had only slightly more success against the Broncos (4-1), who also hounded him, knocking him down several times.
Garcia shook it off to lead the Buccaneers on a 13-play, 90-yard drive, hitting Ike Hilliard from 7 yards to cut Denver's lead to 16-13 with 2:02 left.
But the Broncos iced it thanks to running back Michael Pittman, who spent the past six seasons in Tampa Bay.
Pittman, who had a couple of key third-down runs that helped the Broncos break away from a 6-6 halftime tie, put this one away with a 6-yard rumble for first down with 1:38 left, and Denver ran out the clock and took a two-game lead over San Diego in the AFC West.
The Buccaneers (3-2) blunted the Broncos' league-best offense, which came in averaging 33 points, but Denver's defense which had been allowing 29.5 points a game suddenly found traction after a miserable first month.
The game's first touchdown came with 5:41 left in the third quarter, when Brandon Stokley hauled in Cutler's pass in the right flat and followed Brandon Marshall's big block into the end zone to put Denver ahead 13-7.
The Broncos' drive started at the Buccaneers 47 after a 7-yard punt return by rookie sensation Eddie Royal, who sprained his left ankle on the play. Just before the punt, Griese was knocked from the game.
Pittman had a 16-yard gain on third down that set up Stokley's TD, and his 4-yard gain on third-and-1 set up Matt Prater's 27-yard field goal that made it 16-6.
In the first half, Prater kicked field goals of 55 and 40 yards for Denver, and his counterpart, Matt Bryant, was good from 33 and 31 yards, the latter as the first half expired.
Both teams had to dink and dunk their way down the field. Tampa Bay didn't have a pass play longer than 6 yards until wide receiver Antonio Bryant found a hole in Denver's zone for a 17-yard gain that put the Bucs in field goal range in the closing seconds of the first half.