Doubt has lingered since the Denver Broncos were embarrassed in Super Bowl 49. Doubt that the Broncos possessed toughness. It seeped into many a discussion by fans and media. John Elway himself talked about it and then went about changing the culture through the draft and free agency in an attempt to erase that doubt. Their toughness was questioned many times during the first two weeks of the season even when they emerged victorious. I was one of many doing the questioning.
So, why now after a loss has the discussion changed? Why is 2-1 better than 2-0? I have pondered these questions during the bye week and after letting the dust settle and emotions normalize since the week three loss against the Seattle Seahawks I came to this conclusion. The Broncos and their fans should be disappointed because they lost a game they should’ve won (more on that later), but not in how the Broncos fought. In this loss something was discovered. The Broncos erased any doubt in my mind about their toughness. They proved their mettle in a tough road loss. Don’t get me wrong, they have some serious work to do to win the championship, but toughness is not one that I am worried about. Here is why:
The week three matchup between the Broncos and the Seahawks was billed not only as the Super Bowl rematch, it was the proverbial measuring stick for the Broncos. It was the game that the Broncos needed to prove they could hold their own. The Broncos’ players proved they could more than hold their own against last year’s champs.
The Broncos started out of the gate with a monumental task of pulling out a victory at the hardest stadium for the visiting team to do so. On top of that they found themselves down several times during this heavyweight slugfest. The first offensive play was a turnover deep in their own territory. The Broncos’ defense dug deep and held the Seahawks improved offense to a field goal. They found themselves down 17-3 late in the game, but the defense found a way to spark the team with a safety and an interception. Last season’s crew would have given up this late in the game. There was no quit with this group of players.
After scoring a touchdown by way of good field position due to the turnover to make the score 17-12 the Broncos found themselves driving deep into Seattle territory. The go ahead score looked assured, but Peyton Manning made an ill-fated pass into triple coverage. The pass was intercepted and returned deep into Broncos territory. Last season this is exactly the situation Manning would have looked hunched over and defeated, basically giving up. That did not happen. I did not see any sign of quit from him nor from anyone else on the Broncos sideline. It looked like everyone on the team knew they could still make a comeback. The Broncos’ defense again dug deep and held the Seahawks to a field goal.
With the score now 20-12 and only 59 seconds left on the clock the Broncos got the ball back at their 20 yard line. They marched down the field and scored a touchdown. A significant task in the deafening roar coming from the CenturyLink audience. That alone would have been enough to erase doubt about their toughness, but they added even more by scoring a must needed two-point conversion to send the game to overtime.
Unfortunately, the Broncos did not have enough to beat the home team in OT. Broncos’ fans should be disappointed that they couldn’t finish off the comeback, but again not in how the Broncos fought. The Broncos’ players proved they could slug it out with the team that they need to measure up to.
If toughness was not to blame for the loss then what was it? Two very important pieces were not working. First, the coaching and game management was horrible. I hope behind closed doors the coaches profusely apologized to the players. The coaches coached not to lose. That is the recipe for a loss in the NFL. In the words of Herm Edwards; “You play to win the game!” They should be ashamed of the play calling and the game management. Why were they so hell bent on running the ball into the pile over and over again? It wasn’t working. What was working was Emmanuel Sanders eating the Legion of Boom’s lunch. He was open constantly. So was Wes Welker.
Furthermore, the Seahawks used the same two plays over and over. They always worked for a first down or much needed yardage. The Broncos coaching staff didn’t adjust so why wouldn’t the Seahawks keep going back to those plays? Not making adjustments is a coaching issue.
The game management in overtime was terrible. The Seahawks again kept running the same two aforementioned plays successfully over and over again. Call a time out and regroup. Make adjustments. It seemed the coaches were satisfied with a close fought battle and wanted to just go home. The loss falls squarely on the coaching staff. I hope they did some serious soul searching over the bye week.
The Broncos offensive line has to share in some of the blame. They just can’t do anything in the run game. The Broncos’ running backs were getting hit in the backfield constantly. If the o-line had been able to get enough room for the backs to get three yards instead of zero or a loss the game would have been different. Since the coaches doggedly stuck to the completely non-existent run game the offensive line had to come through, but didn’t. They need vast improvement. Had several of the 3rd and longs been more in the 3rd and 5 or less range the game’s outcome would have been a Broncos victory by 10 points. The line wasn’t particularly great in pass protection either, but did enough.
One final point that needs to be stressed, but isn’t as large of a concern as the previous two is the fact that Danny Trevathan was not on the field. Brandon Marshall has filled in admirably, but he does not have the instincts or athleticism of Trevathan. Too many times he was chasing Russell Wilson or someone else. Trevathan would have come up with a stop or two especially in overtime. That would have changed the outcome of this game. Injuries happen and all teams have to live with it, but it will be nice to get Trevathan back for the week five game.
The Broncos can be very pleased with the toughness on the team and they can also be happy about several players. I won’t be able to talk about all of them, but here are a few. Sanders is the real deal. He is getting open everywhere on the field. Von Miller looked like Miller of 2012. He had a heck of a game. Nate Irving is playing solid at middle linebacker. TJ Ward looked like the enforcer Elway envisioned when he signed him away from Cleveland. Bradley Roby looks like a star in the making. Many other players can be proud even in the loss.
This Broncos team has the toughness to win it all. Now the offensive line has to step up and the coaching staff needs to change their effort and mentality. Put it all together and this team will win the Super Bowl.