There is something changing in Bronco Country. There is something changing and it doesn't look like Bronco fans were ready for it, or if they were ready for it nobody expected it to be like this. However it happened, excitement has returned to this franchise and we no longer are the worst team in the NFL over the last so many weeks.
It's hard being the worst. It's miserable actually and I don't need to tell any of you that. At the start of this season nothing seemed to have changed from last year. A new coaching staff, an entire draft, and a shortened offseason and we were right back to where we left off at 1-4... right on track for another 3 or 4 win season. It was going to be another miserable year. Another offseason of mock drafts. Another QB controversy. Another cold winter in January without Denver football.
Then things starting clicking. What happened in Miami, or maybe it was the second half of the Chargers game, created the catalyst that has so dramatically changed the future of the Denver Broncos that there isn't a soul in Bronco Country that can truly explain it. But somewhere between a 1-4 record and countless hours of expert opinion on major networks, the Broncos found an identity, an identity completely different than what everyone assumed they were.
This is making all the difference in the world.
Back when I was in high school I had this ridiculously awesome pair of yellow Oakley shoes. I mean, they were money in the bank and I'm pretty sure they helped me almost got one girl to consider going out with me. I bought them online back when online shopping was still new, Cyber Monday was still hangover Monday, Beyonce hadn't put a ring on it, and logging onto the internet sounded like dialing Stephen Hawking's answering machine. These shoes were about two sizes too big, didn't look exactly like the picture, and weren't very comfortable. They were legit though so they were worth every penny.
It was strange era in my life. Highschool tends to be that way for kids. Everyone is searching for who they are and wondering what exactly a hollerback girl is and why they can't have one. There's a tendency to place our identity in things outside of ourselves. Perhaps a legit pair of kicks, your sweet ride (i.e. Mom's Town and Country), your sick afro, or your Halo skills. So many of those things we look back on and realize just how ridiculous we were. We were searching for an identity and in the end we just overpaid for a stupid pair of shoes.
The Broncos of last season got lost trying to find their identity... and eventually abandoned the whole concept altogether. What were we? A passing team with no defense? A defensive team with high power offense? Who knows what we wanted to be.
What we were was a losing team that developed a losing mindset. We weren't supposed to win. We were losers. I haven't been able to reason the Spygate debacle in my head past the point that this football team was so desperate for SOMETHING, assistant coaches were looking for ways to cheat the system. Anything to change the tide. It guttered this team, got the coach run out of town. As the 2010 season came to a close, the pages left behind were a nightmare. This Broncos team was in desperate trouble approaching the 2011 NFL Draft and lockout.
The John Fox Effect
I haven't given John Fox enough credit. I'll admit it. I've been so caught up in the moment, so caught up in the detailed stats, that I've failed to step back and consider just what this veteran coach has done for this football team. It's not an X's and O's thing necessarily either. It's an attitude thing. It's an "it" thing.
When John Fox took over the Carolina Panthers in 2002 he was taking over a 1-15 football team. A football team that was on a then record setting 15 game losing streak. In 2002 John Fox took that Panther team, with it's last ranked defense, and turned them into a 7-9 team the next year. The biggest difference? He drafted and added the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year to the roster. A young man by the name of Julius Peppers. That very next season, the Panthers met the Patriots in their only Superbowl appearance in team history. 2 years. Worst to first. Not much in terms of personnel change, but everything in attitude. Sound a little familiar?
When Coach Fox took over this football team he was gifted the worst defense in Broncos history, maybe even history period. I give Mr. Bowlen and John Elway all the credit in the world for recognizing how important fixing our defense first was and finding a guy that has done this before. With the addition of a future Defensive ROY by the name of Von Miller and the passion and play of a young QB, this team has turned a corner. This team is finding its real identity all over again and it starts with the man at the top.
It starts with John Fox. Respect.
From Needy to Greedy
Our new found success has elicited reactions from every part of the globe. Even Alec Baldwin is tweeting about the Broncos now when he's not fake flying airplanes. How does that happen? As fans, even two months ago we would have been content with just one win. Just a win. Please. It didn't matter how, just get us a win and get us away from that 1-4 hole. Well, we got that win. Then somehow we rattled off a few more in a row. Now just winning doesn't seem to be enough. Now the concern is how did we win?
Are we really here so quickly? Can we even be asking that question? A quick listen to the radio and television after our OT win against the Chargers and you hear things like, "If the Broncos had a real offense they would be blowing these teams out of the water." Greed my friends. This is what that is. When winning isn't enough. When how we win becomes the debate we forget too quickly the transformation that got us here in the first place. We've started to taste success, now we want to get gorged on it.
The trifecta of offense, defense, and special teams are normally separated into three independent phases that each play their role in a team's effort to win a football game. Often times we attempt to pin a win on one or two of these three phases and say, "this is why we won that football game." The Chargers game is a perfect example. It was defense. Boom. Evaluation over now let's go get wasted.
Not so fast Les Shapiro. The Broncos aren't playing independent football. They are playing interdependent football and THAT is what has made all the difference. This is critical to understand because we are about to be bombarded with criticism that the Broncos are winning in spite of Tim Tebow and the offense and they are going to use the stellar play of our defense to wedge the offense off the football team completely. In effect, we become the Denver Broncos that win games in spite of the Tebow-led offense. But this isn't how John Fox has set this team up. That isn't the kind of football the Broncos are playing. The defense and the offense cannot be wedged apart and to separate them would be to miss the point. To say, "let's keep this defense and just revamp our offense to be good" fails to recognize that a team's identity is not based in one phase of the game. It is created when it is bought into by all three.
Finding The Broncos True Identity
I simply won't accept that when Tebow stepped onto the field against the Chargers for the first time this season as QB in week 5 that everything changed in spite of Tebow. I won't say that everything changed because of Tebow, but we have to be willing to credit that under Tebow's watch we've seen a team emerge out of an independent phased football team into an inter-dependent one. We've seen this team find its identity all over again and they are believing in each other.
The offense is playing a style the supports our defense by not turning the ball over, something that simply cannot be stressed enough, and winning the field position game. The defense is playing a style the supports our offense by making huge stops and destroying other teams QB's. This is why we win football games. It's a together thing. McGahee is benefiting in huge ways from the presence of Tebow, and Tebow is continuing to build confidence with his receivers while still regularly misfiring throws or watching them drop easy passes. This is "it" at work. Continuous forward momentum even when things don't go as planned.
This evening was a perfect example of this concept. I truly believe that good teams make their own luck. Bad calls are going to happen in football games (and we had plenty of those today). Passes are going to be dropped. Drives will stall and opponents will score. The old Broncos would get debilitated by these things. It would destroy us and we'd prep for another week of blaming the refs, or the defense, or the run game. Bad teams get hung up on bad luck. Lady Luck cheats on everyone. Best not to rely on that hoe. Good teams power through and that is what we are seeing as well. It's attitude. It's what's making the Broncos a good team.
I know that the remarkable season the 49ers are having right now all but guarantees Jim Harbaugh a lock for Coach of the Year, but I think that the job John Fox and his coaching staff have done with this Denver team is a far greater accomplishment than what is happening in San Francisco. If this Bronco team makes the playoffs as far as I am concerned John Fox is the head coach of the year and Tim Tebow, Von Miller, and Britton Colquitt all deserve special recognition for what they have done in their respective phases.
We didn't know who these Broncos were at the beginning of the season. Maybe we still don't know who they are yet. All I know is that the Broncos are quickly discovering who they can be, and while the world around them continues to tell them that they can't play this way, that they are bound to fail and fail miserably, the Broncos are not so quietly making everyone look a little silly. These Broncos aren't who we thought they were. This team is dangerous. This team is demoralizing to opponents. This team gets in your head. Others have mistaken the Broncos for who they really are. They've made a huge mistake.
This is why they win. This is why they're hot.