You can exhale now Denver. It’s over. The “Super Bowl Rematch” has been completed. Unfortunately, Denver didn’t come out on top. And although the record has become blemished with the first loss of the season, put an asterisk next to this one. This loss will be a victory in the future.
I must admit before we go any further, I threw this team to the wolves. I completely lost all hope as we went into halftime and to take it a step further, I said this team had no shot of winning the Super Bowl this year.
To my defense, at that point in the game this team looked extremely hesitant and conservative. I won’t say they looked scared or fearful because they matched Seattle in toughness (on one side of the ball at least), but they just didn’t look completely comfortable. They almost looked like a team that was insecure and by that I mean they knew they could take it up and down the field, but they just didn’t seem to believe in themselves. It didn’t help that the team lost a great run blocking tight end in Virgil Green, as he left the game with concussion-like symptoms. According to Manning, that really threw a wrench into the gameplan and what they wanted to do with their two tight end sets. But does one guy, who rarely gets recognized during a game by the audience have that much of an impact on your play-calling?
Going into Sunday, my expectations were fairly low. That wasn’t abnormal by any stretch of the imagination, as most fans I talked to about the “rematch” held the same sentiments I did in the days leading up to the game. I didn’t expect another “43-8”, nor did I realistically believe my team would go into Seattle and beat a team that is 17-1 at home since Wilson has taken over as starting QB. However, there was an ounce of hope. I did, at some points during the game actually believe it could happen, that a miracle could occur. But then reality set in. It took the form of Seattle’s defense and a Colorado sized egg the Broncos offense laid on the field for the majority of the game. Going into the fourth quarter I wasn’t convinced and I had truly felt we were going to be duped for the third year in a row. After yesterday, even with the result being what it was, I’m convinced. This team can beat Seattle and they will do it in Super Bowl 49, in Arizona.
Now to some, that may be asinine and beyond ludicrous. That’s understandable if you feel that way, believe me, typing it even reads a little funny. However, there is one thing that has convinced me wholeheartedly that this team will without question (if given the opportunity again, which I believe they will be) defeat Seattle. It was the only positive that logically could have been taken away from yesterday’s game; it was the Denver Defense. Just after the Indy game, I wrote a column praising how there actually is a “D” that exists in Denver now and that although they made their presence felt that first game with two crucial “turnover-on-downs” stops, they had some improvements to make. This game against Seattle showed me all I needed to see.
I saw a pass rush that was consistent and that produced three sacks, four QB knockdowns, a bevy of hurried throws, and a timely safety. I saw both edge rushers in Ware and Miller fly off the ball and do an incredible job (until overtime) of containing Wilson in the pocket, forcing him to climb up into traffic rather than run around guys. I saw the linebackers show quickness from sideline to sideline, while shedding blocks to do whatever it took to get #BeastMode himself down to the ground. Our corners were tested and out of it came a few game-changing plays like the TD to Lockette over Talib or the passes to Harvin in the flat in which Harris had to run through a maze just to track Percy down. Other than that, they played well and they forced a much-needed turnover to get Denver back into the game. The safety play wasn’t spectacular, but it was very solid. T.J. Ward was finally unleashed this game as he notched a sack on Wilson and showed a surprising burst of speed as he chased guys down all over the field. He for one wasn’t afraid to take on Lynch when they met one-on-one in the open field, which was also a promising sign. The run stuffers held up and for the most part, if you’re a Broncos fan, you should be quite proud of this defense. They gave the offense opportunity after opportunity; they bent and in my opinion, didn’t break until OT. Of which they should not receive all the blame. Let’s be honest, they were the only ones that showed up yesterday, there was NO OFFENSE until Seattle backed off late.
On the other hand, that is exactly my point. There was NO OFFENSE to help this Denver defense out. Imagine if Montee doesn’t cough the ball up on the first Denver offensive play of the game, or if the ref does in fact see the neutral zone infraction and signals a Denver first down when they gathered a rhythm, or if Peyton sees Sanders streaking across the middle of the field instead of forcing it to Welker for a Chancellor pick? Heck, just imagine if Denver could have had an efficient run game? I could spout out all the “ifs, ands, buts, shouldas, couldas, and wouldas” I’d like, but it still won’t change the fact that Peyton and crew didn’t put on a complete and effective effort offensively for the third game in a row. Thankfully, they’re heading into a bye week and maybe they can get some things figured out. One thing is for certain, however, this team must, I repeat MUST, find a way to run the ball more effectively. Because come November, December, and January, this team will encounter the same difficulties they’re experiencing now if they don’t make some adjustments. One thing the NFL has in common with the NBA is come playoff time, the games in each sport slows down. The flashy, high-powered offenses stall out because the game becomes more about being efficient, relying on defense and toughness, while focusing on accomplishing the little details it takes to win playoff ball. For Denver to hold the Lombardi in February, the defense can’t be the only one getting better each week and fine-tuning all the tiny mistakes that show up big in the playoffs when they aren’t executed; the offense must reach their own epiphany as well.
So how then am I so certain this offense will reach their “ah-ha” moment and spark a Denver run to the Super Bowl, ultimately leading them past the “Legion of Boom”? Well, because the pressure is off the offense. Think about it with me for a second: if Denver’s defense can find ways to take over games while the “O” is struggling, there’s no reason this team won’t eventually get it together. Denver’s defense has shown it can be relied on, but the Broncos must take the chance to actually lean on that group of 11 guys and trust in them. Peyton must relinquish his dictator like grip of this team and let the defense be the headliners and he be the backup dancers along with the rest of the offense. For the past three games, Denver’s defense has been tested in a multitude of ways and there has been three constants from each game: pressure leading to sacks, turnovers, and goal-line stands. If you would have asked me before the game yesterday, Seattle will be on the Denver six yard-line knocking on the door for a score, will the “D” stop them? I would have responded with a crazed look “There’s no way”! Seattle has Lynch to pound it in, Harvin to take a sweep, or Russell himself could trot in for the score. But did any of that occur? Nope. The Broncos “D” stuffed Lynch three times in a row, holding Seattle to a field goal. I can’t begin to explain how much of a confidence boost that was for this defense. Backed up, defending your own goal-line from one of the best running teams in the league with the NFL’s loudest fans screaming down your neck and you hold them to three points? That’s huge and trust me when I say that that will help them as the season progresses.
But as I said at the top of the preceding paragraph, Peyton must release a good portion of the control and rely on this defense. Not just trust them, actually rely on them. Elway did it and look where it got him? But that’s all on Peyton, the offense, and coordinator Adam Gase to decide; after all, they’re the professionals right? They better make the decision soon, or things will be gloomy again this coming February as we head into next offseason and that won’t be due to the moody Colorado weather either. The defense has shown its grit and swagger, it will be there for this team all year. Now it’s a wait-and-see as to when the offense will finally come around. I’m sure this is the side of the ball all fans expected to start out slow coming out of the gate back in training camp right? Wrong! They have too much talent not to be back to where they were last year. Granted they may not score 606 points, Manning may not throw 50 plus TD’s, and they may not have four or five players with double-digit touchdown receptions. Conversely, this offense could be and should be more tough and efficient in the little aspects of the game than they were last year. They have a revamped O-line that includes some shifting and the addition of All-Pro Left Tackle Ryan Clady back into the line-up, they have a talent in Montee Ball who needs to learn consistency, they have an extra element of speed and play-making ability over the top with the addition of Sanders, and they have one of the league’s best wideouts and tight ends in both DT and JT. There is no reason the Sheriff and his deputies should be struggling like this and I don’t think it will be long before we see them running the town again.
So now you tell me, is it so crazy after all to think this team could not only beat Seattle, but also beat them when it matters most? In yesterday’s game, they showed guts, resolve, and a fight that we didn’t see at all last year on either side of the ball. And for some odd reason, Peyton has to lose to the tough squads in order for him to beat them when it counts. Just look at all his early battles with “Tom Terrific” all those years between Indy and New England. Didn’t we have to lose to Baltimore before we could beat them? Yes, it sucks to lose, but if there is such a thing as a good loss, it’s this one. The Broncos showed enough bad to make corrections and improvements, whereas they also showed enough positive to solidify they’re going to be a team to be reckoned with. No doubt, a loss is a loss, there is no sugarcoating that. But as it says in the title, asterisk this one. Make sure you mark it down, because this won’t be the last time Denver sees Seattle. We have a date coming up here in five months. We will be ready and I’m sure they will be too. We’ll swallow our pride for now and enjoy the “moral victory” we were served Sunday. But just wait Seattle, the real thing will be ours in no time.
Until next time Denver…