At halftime of last Sunday’s game against the Patriots I started thinking about my column for this week.
The Broncos were down 17-7, and the Patriots would start with the ball in the second half. The Broncos’ only scoring drive of the half, in the last five minutes of the second quarter, was quickly matched by a vintage, Tom Brady, is-there-even-a-defense-on-the-field? 2-minute drill. The Broncos got the ball back with two seconds left on their own 40, and Kyle Orton heaved a desperate effort toward the end zone that was picked off by Randy Moss for Orton’s first interception of the season.
The gist of my column, as I had it worked out then, was going to be that this loss to the Patriots is a perfectly fine way to end the Broncos’ perfect start. Orton’s first pick came on a meaningless halftime Hail Mary. Perfectly fine end to perfection. The Broncos’ perfect season looked as though it would end at the hands of the last team to complete a perfect season. Perfectly fine end to perfection. I mean it had to/has to end eventually, right? Right?
Plus, if the Broncos lost, at least we had the Rockies to look forward to later that night, right? (Ouch.)
Second half: enter the wow-factor.
After giving up 17 points in the first 29:58 of the game, the Broncos held the Patriots perfectly scoreless for the next 30:02, plus the 4:51 the Broncos had the ball in OT. The Patriots, and Brady with his 7-0 OT record, never touched the ball. The Broncos won the coin flip, drove 58 yards on 11 plays, and Matt Prater redeemed his 1st-quarter miss with a 41-yard field goal that split the uprights, perfectly.
That was a gutsy effort by a gutsy football team with a gutsy coach, and I profess myself a believer.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was dead wrong about this team and season, and I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong.
To Josh McDaniels: I apologize. You are proving yourself to be a good coach; we’ll save great depending on how the rest of this season goes. You’re smart. I loved the Wild Horse formation, and to pull it out in the first drive against your mentor: brilliant and gutsy. You got your team and largely skeptical fan base to believe in you 100 percent, a feat that I thought would be your most futile, and after just five games. Remember when I said wins heal wounds? Consider me healed.
To Kyle Orton: I owe you an apology as well. I’m scared to write this for fear of jinxing you, but you could be playing yourself into a Pro Bowl. Finally free of the glove, you completed 35 of 48 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns. And as mentioned above, your only interception of the year so far wasn’t even mistake. Jay who? (Again, this coming from someone who almost cried when we traded Cutler to the Bears.)
To Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal: welcome back. I was worried about both of you there early, and how you would adapt to this new system. I like Jabar Gaffney pulling in six catches for 61 yards, but I like it a lot more when you, Royal, catch 10 passes for 90 yards, and you, Marshall, catch 8 for 64 and two touchdowns.
To Knowshon Moreno: please don’t get hurt and follow the trend of recent Broncos backs. I know you’re young and impressionable, but that is NOT the cool thing to do around here. And you showed some flashes of brilliance. You were very effective out of Wild Horse, you ran well, and you made a key 27-yard reception in the fourth quarter to help set up the game-tying touchdown. Thank you, rookie.
To the Broncos defense: Wow. Wow, wow, wow; quite a refreshing change of scenery from last year. You stopped Tom Brady three times on one crucial, 3rd-quarter drive, after two special teams penalties on punts. There are too many impact players on this side of the ball for me to name individually, but as a unit you have given up 47 points through five games. Last year, you (well, not most of you, but your predecessors) gave up more than 30 points in nine separate games.
To Bronco Nation: I apologize for my early-season pessimism. The Broncos look to be a strong AFC contender this year. But next week we have the Chargers at San Diego on Monday night. And despite being overrated every year, the Chargers have been the Broncos’ gut-check game for three straight years now.
2008: The Hochuli call. A game that we definitely did not deserve to win (and paid for in Week 17), and exposed the Broncos very weak defense; we gave up 38 points for our first 30+ defensive effort of the season.
2007: The Broncos started out 2-2 (with two fluky wins), and Week 5 against the Chargers would tip the balance of the season either way, we lost 41-3.
2006: both teams came into Week 11 at Denver with 7-2 records. I was at that game, and I vividly remember watching LaDanian Tomlinson catch a short pass from Phillip Rivers and bolt 51 yards for the touchdown to pull the Chargers within three in the third quarter, and on that play I saw our season slip away. And you could make a valid argument that that was the turning point in the Broncos-Chargers rivalry. Before that game, the Broncos were defending AFC-West champions and one win short of the Super Bowl the year before. Since then, the Broncos have not made the playoffs once, while San Diego has gone every year.
But for now, the Broncos are perfect, and they will carry that perfection into San Diego Monday night. Let’s hope it’s time for another franchise-altering match up against the Chargers and start of a perfect era of football in Denver.