12-7. Disappointing. Frustrating. Unbelievable.
As Kyle Orton stepped behind center with 34 seconds remaining, I pondered whether I should start this post with "disappointing" or "frustrating". I couldn't decide which emotion I felt more. When Kyle threw the first incompletion, I figured I was more frustrated than disappointed, because I sure as great Hades wasn't disappointed in the defense. I remember the announcer's belated call after that throw... and I remember the feeling of my heart sinking further down my chest as he uttered the first syllables of that nauseating word --
Of course, he didn't finish that word.
BAD THOUGHTS (THAT MAKE ME A SAD PANDA):
The First: I'm not going to damn Mr Orton here. Instead, I'll defend him... but please, do hear me out.
I wrote down (I figure it's easier than trying to remember it all, although trying to pull stuff out of my head is kinda fun - until the doctor told me it was bad for my health) in the first half that Orton still needed more time, but I anticipated that he'd show flashes or put together some solid drives as the game wore on. I still do think it's too early to judge him, mostly because he is playing with an injury and needs to have proper use of his hand to have, well, proper control over the balls he throws, but someone else said it'd take until mid-season for Orton to master the McDaniels offense (citing Cassel and his slow integration as the season progressed). I still believe this final part.
Orton displayed some poor decision-making and happy feet. As he gets used to the O-line, he'll calm down, he'll set his feet easier, and he'll survey the field with a steadier beat. His decision-making will improve, with time, as he gets used to the offense.
Orton needs to improve, no doubt about that, but I wonder if we're giving him the time he requires to improve.
The Second: Defensive pressure.
In the beginning of the game, I noticed a lack of pressure, and wondered whether the pre-season was just hot air. Well, the pressure showed up mid-game, with 2 consecutive sacks by Mario Haggan and Darrell Reid (respectively), but then, it tailed off. On the Bengals' scoring drive, I had the feeling (before it even started, to be honest, because this always seems to happen. A heartbreaker right in the end) that they'd make this long drive to score and snatch a victory from our flailing hands. We needed pressure to keep Palmer in check (Bill Cowher, by the way, praised Denver's defense in the post-game show; nice to hear that), but we gave him lots of time to throw instead.
We have seen this before. In the "end" (because it most definitely - unless you have no idea how this game went - is not the end until the clock reads zero) of the game, they switch off the blitzing machine and just played back. A part of me wants to brag to someone and anyone that the Broncos can sack a quarterback often and easily (as an affront to the D-line naysayers), but I can't do that if we're giving them loads of time to smoke a joint in the pocket. Can you help me out, Mr Nolan?
The Third: Injures. Oh, my. Again. I'm going to start having nightmares again. This time, it won't be a bunch of nameless running backs, but just Knowshon. Besides fearing man-eating Manbearpigs, I have a fear that our swanky 1st round running back will have his career end abruptly before it even begins. I really hope this fear isn't realised.
The Fourth: Here's a stat for you: 100% of the kick-off returns featured costly errors. Okay, there were only two returns. But still... eh... well, I guess this is statistics for ya, hey? The first one featured a drop, and the second had Eddie slip (this was another problem, I noticed several slips by the players) at the 13. This doesn't help the field position (which I believe we may have lost) battle.
The Fifth: The offense needs to improve, there's no two ways about it. 12 points is not enough, by a long way. I'll look for them to get better with every game.
GOOD THOUGHTS (THAT MAKE ME FEEL GOOD INSIDE):
The First: DEFENSE.
I really, really, really hope I get to say this again. The defense played amazingly well. They are the reason the Broncos won the game. Stokley's amazing catch and run put the 6 crucial points up, but the defense shut down a supposedly potent offense for the entire game bar two drives. Something I'd like to see fewer long 1st down completions and improved tackling, but they did what a great defense should do: get the ball for your offense. They gave them every opportunity to score, and if the offense held its end of the bargain, this game wouldn't have been close at all.
The Second: The Miracle in Cincy. No, wait, there's a better one. The Tipped Wonder. No, no. Stokley's Amazing Run. Nope, not that. The Tip. Aah, screw it. Whatever it was, it was amazing.
Orton made a bad, predictable decision... he threw it to Marshall. The defender anticipated it and went for the interception. Unfortunately for the Bengals, his desire for glory hit him smack-dab in the middle of his palm and went flying through the air... right into Brandon Stokley's hands. Stokes then took off for the endzone, outrunning Dhani Jones.
I can already imagine the balks.
"Oh, they had one good play. They were lucky. They still suck."
A win is a win, of course, as the saying goes. And the teams that win it all usually have a certain amount of luck and amazing plays in their season (remember the 63 yard field goal?). So, I'll take it. The defense gave them the chance all day long, and in one play, they made the best of that chance. But, still... I need it to sink in a little more.
Stokes said afterwards (possibly, probably paraphrased), "We're a tough football team. We persevere. We don't quit."
I believe him, now. After gnashing my teeth in the hopes of somehow finding a win in the final minute, and failing, I've gotten used to the embarrassing losses, and I honestly didn't expect a win. Even after the way the defense played. It's the Broncos, after all, and I, like Kyle Orton, still need to get acclimated to the new way. The way of not quitting until the clock strikes zero.
RANDOM OBSERVATIONS I MADE WITH A MONOCLE AND MANIACAL LAUGH:
1. In case anyone wondered, this format was totally stolen from Ted's Shallow Thoughts & Nearsighted Observations.
2. Alphonso Smith played well. He broke up some pass plays and stopped a run (or two?). Regular season trumps pre-season, so I'll take his regular season play over his pre-season play any day. Good stuff, friend.
3. Woodyard made an interception off a tipped pass. I wonder how Ochocinco couldn't out-jump an undersized linebacker. Well, I guess he mistimed it, and this instantly conjures up Phonz. No good being an inch (or more) taller than the next guy if he's better at catching these jump balls, right?
4. On one play, I noticed Champ coming up on the line. I immediately remembered a recent comment on the peculiarity of this, as Champ likes playing in off-coverage. Then, to my surprise, as the ball was snapped, Champ took off... at the quarterback. He got there a split-second too late as Palmer threw the ball past him, but it isn't as peculiar anymore.
If we're going to see more corner blitzing, does this mean we'll need to see Champ lining up closer to the line? If a QB knows he likes playing off, seeing him close to the line will set off alarm bells that something's up; but if it isn't an uncommon sight, the chance of picking up the blitz will be unlikelier. So, I believe Nolan is setting Champ up for more cornerback blitzes. I'd like to hear what someone like HT has to say about this, and whether I'm onto something (also, there's a fair chance I'm poaching someone else's idea here, because I'm not usually that observant).
5. It was good to see Mario getting a sack, and the announcer remarked that he looked like a DE where he lined up on that play. So close, yet so far... from the realising it's actually a 5-2?
6. Scheffler couldn't bring in a pass that would've set up a 1st down in the 20 (unless I'm mistaken). I remember the sight of Orton on this play, and how excited I was to see him reacting pre-snap. He saw a player coming up, and adjusted, before snapping it and making a good throw that unluckily fell incomplete. This is an example of the good Orton, and why we need to keep the faith in the Neckbeard. Rock the Neckbeard! ( :p )
7. Elway is Awesomez. Thereforez = RETIRED.
8. Thanks to IHSD and his site, www.watchthedenverbroncos.wordpress.com, for providing some solid streams. I get to watch few games on TV over here, so it's really appreciated.
9. DJ nearly made a great interception that would have surely gone for a touchdown. He got a good hand on the ball, but is yet to master the art of the one-handed catch.
10. In Knowshon's first play after going out for a while with some injury, Eddie got hammered and shaken up. One player in, another player out. Ouch.
11. I have no idea what this was about, but the coaches were going mental in the final minute of the game. Josh, I understand, was trying to fix a game-clock problem, and doing do so rather vehemently. At another point, however, a different coach seemed to be trying to rev up the defense or something.
12. Hillis didn't seem to be involved in many plays. He dropped one catch, and I wonder if this is why. He's much too valuable for a benching after that, though, so perhaps we still haven't seen the true Broncos, yet. With Knowshon trying to get in, we may have to wait a little longer to see the true debut of Thunder 'n' Lightning.
13. I love the disbelief in the announcer's voice as Stokley streaked down the sideline. He was more shocked than me.
14. I watched the Giants/Redskins game on TV after this one, and during a break, one of the presenters read an e-mail from a UK Broncos fan. To my dismay, it went something like, "If you watched the Broncos/Bengals game, you've already seen the best of them. The Broncos aren't going to get any better this year, and it'll be painful to watch them play." He also made the usual anti-McDaniels statement, though I'd zoned out by then.
The presenter then joked that, "What sort of fan is he? The guy's just won a game, and he wants him fired! Where are all the Zorn fans?" I thought we had a good guy here, but he immediately turned and agreed with the fan, saying that this would be a very difficult season for the Broncos. I promptly e-mailed my own rebuttal, but I changed the channel soon after and can't verify if they read it (I dread the snarky reply these "experts" like to give). I'm waiting to see what Mike Carlson says about the Broncos, he's still proving to be the best analyst this side of the Atlantic and it'll be interesting to hear his take.
Well, that's it. I have one more thing I'd like to say before heading off...
I noticed in the game thread, just before the touchdown, that a fair amount of people had already given up on the game. Something I like to do (which is a bit mean, perhaps) is read past comments, for the sake of fully understanding a person's perspective. This is an interesting hobby (if you want to call it that), because every now and then, I stumble upon some hypocrisy and human nature fascinates me in that sort of cynical way. I'd like to see if anyone changes after this. I'm going to admit right here that I had hope the team would win, but as the Bengals drove down the field, my hopes began dwindling. And Royal's slip felt like the final nail in the coffin: it just wasn't meant to be. Honestly, I really didn't believe it. After the play, I just waited for a flag or something that would mitigate it. Because I just couldn't wrap my head around it. So, yeah, with 34 seconds remaining, I had given up on the Broncos. I'm glad I was wrong, of course, and this is a good lesson for me to learn. Hope it's the same for you, too.
I'm having chicken for dinner!