Minutes after the Denver Broncos' Matt Prater drilled his third consecutive game winning field goal, my youngest daughter -- who'd been texting me from Boston throughout the game -- sent me the following texts:
"Another week, another heart attack, another win . . . still sitting here trying to figure out how we won that game . . . in between bouts of the happy dance"
That, in a nutshell, sums up how I've felt about the Broncos during this rather improbable six game winning streak. Emotions have been running the gamet from worry and concern to "dancing in the streets" joy. Getting a handle on the 2011 Broncos and why they're winning is akin to nailing spaghetti to the wall -- it can't be done.
Is this team that good? Is it a case of heart and self-belief overcoming missing talent? Is it a case of simple luck, divine intervention, or what? Whatever it is, it seems to defy logic , explanation and it certainly flies in the face of what "everyone knows" it takes to win.
Take a jump with me as I look back at this wildly improbable six-game winning streak.
Please note: This review is limited strictly to the Broncos' recent six-game winning streak. It does not include the 1-4-0 start, nor the games against San Diego and Detroit.
|Time of Possession||42:10||47:50|
|First Downs||13 rushing||13 rushing|
|5 passing||6 passing|
|1 penalty||3 penalty|
|19 total||22 total|
|Third Down Conversions||5/16 (31.3%)||3/19 (15.8%)|
|Fourth Down Conversions||0/1||0/0|
|Times Led/Trailed/Tied||Led 5||Led 3|
|Trailed 3||Trailed 5|
|Tied 1||Tied 1|
|Plays||56 rushes for 259 yards (4.6 ypa)||45 rushes for 193 yards (4.3 ypa)|
|10 of 21 passes for 133 yards (47.6%, 6.3 ypa)||22 of 38 passes for 190 yards (57.8%, 5.0 ypa)|
|1 Interception, 1 Sack||1 Interception, 6 Sacks|
The first thing that leapt out at me was the fact that the Broncos have actually outscored their opponents in the first quarter. I did not expect to find that. It was also surprising to find that the Broncos led at the end of the first quarter in four of these six games. Now, to be fair, Denver was not setting any records for early points to scored. This was despite their opponents holding the ball for over five more minutes in that quarter. The second thing that caught my attention was Denver's edge in the third down conversion category. Isn't it funny how our minds can play tricks on us and help us to believe that things were even worse than they were? When we look at the play summary, the statistics of Denver and their opponents are very similar. The biggest difference was in the Broncos sacking opposing quarterbacks six times as opposed to the offense giving up only a single sack.
|Time of Possession||43:51||46:09|
|First Downs||9 rushing||7 rushing|
|5 passing||21 passing|
|6 penalty||3 penalty|
|20 total||31 total|
|Third Down Conversions||6/23 (26.1%)||6/19 (31.6%)|
|Fourth Down Conversions||0/1||0/0|
|Times Led/Trailed/Tied||Led 1||Led 6|
|Trailed 6||Trailed 1|
|Tied 2||Tied 2|
|Plays||55 rushes for 227 (4.1 ypa)
||45 rushes for 178 yards (4.0 ypa)
|9 of 33 passes for 82 yards (27.2%, 2.5 ypa)
||32 of 51 passes for 354 yards (62.7%, 6.9 ypa)
|5 Sacks||1 Interception, 4 Sacks|
This quarter is where the Broncos have struggled the most and put themselves in the position of having to stage a comeback in order to secure the win. Their ability to convert third downs in the second quarter dropped and they found themselves trailing in the score regularly in this quarter. This is also the quarter where they gave up the most sacks. This may be due to the Broncos attempting 57% more passes in the second quarter than in the first. Passing accuracy dropped to almost half what it had been in the first quarter. The defense continued to be solid against the run, but gave up significant chunks of yardage in the passing game. Still, with an interception and four sacks, the defense kept the games from getting out of hand. The Broncos trailed at the half in three of the games (Oak 7-17, San Diego 7-10, Minnesota 7-15), were tied twice (New York Jets 3-3, Chicago 0-0) and led once (Kansas City 10-0) with the largest deficit being ten points (Oakland 7-17). The team's struggles in this quarter are what I believe to be the biggest contributor to the feeling of "Oh no, here we go again."
|Time of Possession||44:06||45:54|
|First Downs||14 rushing||11 rushing|
|8 passing||17 passing|
|0 penalty||2 penalty|
|22 total||30 total|
|Third Down Conversions||6/21 (28.6%)||8/19 (42.1%)|
|Fourth Down Conversions||0/0||0/0|
|Times Led/Trailed/Tied||Led 1||Led 10|
|Tied 2||Tied 2|
|Plays||58 rushes for 315 yards (5.4 ypa)
||45 rushes for 224 yards (5.0 ypa)
|9 of 23 passes for 182 yards (39.1%, 7.9 ypa)
||26 of 42 passes for 375 yards (61.9%, 8.9 ypa)
|1 Sacks||2 Interceptions, 2 Sacks|
The third quarter of these games was something of a wash. Points and time of possession were virtually identical. We could see the signs of both defenses becoming worn down in this quarter as the Broncos put up the most rushing yards of any of the first three quarters. The opposing teams also posted their largest number of rushing yards during this quarter. Both sides also increased their passing yards during this quarter. Despite this, Denver continued to trail just two teams (San Diego 10-13, Minnesota 21-22) while letting one tie become a trailing situation (Chicago 0-7). They turned one trailing situation into a tie (Oakland 24-24) and continued to be tied in one game (New York Jets 10-10). They kept their lead against Kansas City 10-7. This quarter tended to be an emotional roller coaster ride as the Broncos surged forward one moment only to seemingly fall back the next. We could see the signs of both defenses becoming worn down in this quarter as the Broncos put up the most rushing yards of any of the first three quarters. The opposing teams also posted their largest number of rushing yards during this quarter. Both sides also increased their passing yards during this quarter.
|Time of Possession||46:34||43:26|
|First Downs||14 rushing||5 rushing|
|17 passing||19 passing|
|1 penalty||6 penalty|
|32 total||30 total|
|Third Down Conversions||6/19 (31.6%)||5/23 (21.7%)|
|Fourth Down Conversions||0/0||1/3
|Times Led/Trailed/Tied||Led 6
|Tied 4||Tied 4|
|Plays||51 rushes for 228 yards (4.5 ypa)
||38 rushes for 194 yards (5.1 ypa)
|25 of 35 passes for 427 yards (71.4%, 12.2 ypa)
||25 of 57 passes for 381 yards (43.9%, 6.7 ypa)
||2 Interceptions, 7 Sacks
The fourth quarter has become BroncosTime (in deference to Tim Tebow's choice of terms). After repeated trailing in games by the end of the third quarter, the Broncos suddenly, magically and mysteriously explode in the fourth quarter. Denver has outscored their opponents 55-19 in this quarter. This is in spite of holding a narrow edge in time of possession and first downs. Third down conversions improved slightly from the third quarter while the Broncos defense made it harder for opposing teams to convert. Perhaps the most dramatic turnaround in this quarter, however, came in the passing game. After allowing opposing teams to complete approximately 60% of their passes through the first three quarters, the defense suddenly started shutting them down -- opposing teams completed only 43.9% of their passes in the fourth quarter, were intercepted twice and gave up seven sacks. On the other side, the Broncos, after completing approximately 35% of their passes through the first three quarters, suddenly saw their completion rate jump to an incredible 71.4% while surrendering only two sacks. They also compiled a 12.2 yards per attempt average in the fourth quarter. As a footnote, in the Chicago game, Denver completed 78.9% of their passes in the fourth quarter.
Now, I am certain that someone is most likely, at this time, taking offense to my referring to the passing stats as "The Broncos passing" or "Denver's passing." This is in no way an attempt to deflect credit away from Tim Tebow. It is, rather, a recognition that at least a portion of the responsibility for Tebow's low completion rate in the first three quarters lies in the hands of his receivers -- think back to Demaryius Thomas' four dropped passes in the first three quarters of the Chicago game. There have been a number of instances in these games in which Tebow threw a catchable ball, only to have a receiver drop it. In the fourth quarter, Tebow and his receivers suddenly "clicked" and together created successful passing plays.
What makes all of this even more incredible is what occurred in the last two minutes of these six games.
LAST TWO MINUTES OF GAME
|LAST TWO MINUTES
|Time of Possession||4:21||7:39|
|First Downs||0 rushing||1 rushing|
|2 passing||8 passing|
|0 penalty||0 penalty|
|2 total||9 total|
|Third Down Conversions||0/4||0/3|
|Fourth Down Conversions||0/0||1/1
|Times Led/Trailed/Tied||Led 2
|Tied 0||Tied 0|
|Plays||14 rushes for 57 yards (4.1 ypa)
||5 rushes for 28 yards (5.6 ypa)
|3 of 7 passes for 39 yards (42.9%, 5.6 ypa)
||12 of 16 passes for 158 yards (75.0%, 9.9 ypa)
|2 Interceptions, 2 Sacks
This is where BroncosTime becomes even more dramatic. Remember how we noticed that Denver had outscored their opponents 55-19 in the fourth quarter? The Broncos outscored their opponents 29-3 in the final two minutes of those six games. This was in spite of the fact that their opponents held the ball almost twice as long as Denver in the final two minutes, had four times as many first downs, completed 75% of their passes for over a hundred more yards than the Broncos, and led in the final two minutes in four of the six games. Denver held the ball at the start of the final two minutes in five of the six games. Those five possessions led to two touchdowns, two field goals and a missed field goal. Chicago was the only team to have the ball as the final two minutes started and their possession ended in a punt.
It is also interesting to note how those six games ended. Against Oakland and Kansas City, the Broncos had the lead and the final play of the game was a kneel down by Tebow. The New York Jets game ended with a Jets' incompletion after Denver had scored the winning touchdown with 1:06 left on the clock. The Broncos tied San Diego with 1:38 left and the game ended with an eight-yard pass by the Chargers. Denver had the last possession of the Minnesota game which they used to kick the winning field goal with 0:02 left. The Broncos, in essence, had the last possession of the Chicago also, when they kicked a field goal to tie the game with 0:08 left -- Denver did kick off and Chicago ran the ball out which ended the game.
|Time of Possession||10:42||10:15|
|First Downs||3 rushing||2 rushing|
|2 passing||4 passing|
|0 penalty||0 penalty|
|5 total||6 total|
|Third Down Conversions||1/4 (25.0%)||1/4 (25.0%)|
|Fourth Down Conversions||0/0||0/0
|Tied 4||Tied 4|
|Plays||8 rushes for 53 yards (6.6 ypa)
||9 rushes for 44 yards (4.9 ypa)
|4 of 6 passes for 38 yards (66.7%, 9.5 ypa)
||6 of 8 passes for 59 yards (75.0%, 7.4 ypa)
The pattern of improbable winning continued in the two overtime games where the Broncos were played evenly by both of their opponents but were able to secure the wins.
Call these last six games thrilling, exciting, improbable, magical, insert whatever adjective you want here. It does not matter. The simple reality is that the Broncos have found ways to win. Perhaps the most dramatic example of Denver's fortunes can be found in the ending of the Chicago game where all the Bears had to do was run out the clock for the win: Marion Barber, in a bid to gain the first down that would seal Chicago's win, let himself be forced out of bounds stopping the clock for a Denver team with no time outs left. Chicago punts and the Broncos tie the game on what amounted to the last play of the game. Then, in overtime, the Denver defense comes up big with a forced fumble that stopped a driving Bears offense. The rest, as they say, is history.
Will Denver continue its winning ways? I wouldn't bet against them at this point. This is a team playing with confidence, heart and belief. So, here's to the last three weeks -- three more weeks of