George Santayana was a famed poet, essayist, novelist and thinker. The often quoted phrase with many variants from which the title of this post comes, has its origins with him. His original quote is this Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. So with that in mind let's take a look back at recent Bronco history. Hopefully in doing so we have help to avert result that occurred in 2008 and 2009, keeping in mind that this year's Bronco team is very different from the two teams which collapsed in the final three games. Make the jump with me and let's relive some painful shared history and hopefully learn why it won't be repeated....
On December 7th 2008, the Broncos had just defeated the Chiefs at Mile High to go to 8-5. In the 24-17 win, the defense played quite well holding the Chiefs to 260 total yards despite not forcing any turnovers. The Broncos had trailed by 3 at halftime, but held the Chiefs scoreless in the second half securing the win on a 6 yd TD catch from Brandon Marshall. Things were looking good. The Broncos at that point had a three game lead on the 5-8 Chargers with three games to play. No team in NFL history had ever blown a three game lead with three to play. The Broncos remaining three opponents were the 10-3 Panthers (away), the 6-7 Bills (at home) and the 5-8 Chargers (away). Winning one game would secure the division. Easy, right? Well, we know how the story ended.
The Broncos got trounced in Charlotte 30-10. The offense was only able to muster a meager 279 yards and 15 first downs. Couple that with 2 turnovers and a Panthers ground game that controlled the clock and the result was an ugly loss for the Broncos. Ok, so the thoughts at the time were that the Broncos would learn from the loss, lick their wounds and take care of business at home against an unspectacular Bills team that had narrowly lost to the Jets on the road despite turning the ball over 4 times. Additionally the Bills had lost five straight to the Broncos and had not won in Denver since 1967.
The Bills game probably sealed Mike Shanahan's fate. The Broncos jumped out to a 13 point lead, but then the Broncos let up, expecting the Bills to just roll over and play dead. Unfortunately they didn't, they scored 16 unanswered points to take the lead before the Broncos would score again on a TD run from Cutler. The Bills answered with a quick 5 play 72 yd TD drive to take a lead that the Broncos would never regain. The killer was a 65 yard pass play to Fred Jackson. The Broncos got the ball back after the Buffalo touchdown and proceeded to drive quickly down the field for the tying FG, only to have the Bills quickly score another TD set up by a big KO return into Bronco territory. The decisive drive took only 4 plays and completely sucked the life out of the crowd and the Broncos. The Broncos got the ball back and had a drive the was a microcosm of the season ending collapse; Cutler threw not one, but two interceptions on the drive, the first being overruled by a defensive holding call on the other side of the field. The second, occurred at the Buf 1 yd line. The Broncos were able to stop the Bills 3 and out to get the ball back with 3:27 left to play and two timeouts, but the Broncos turned it over on downs with 32 seconds to play from the Buf 15. The Broncos ended up losing 23-30 despite outgaining the Bills almost 2:1 (532 to 275)
Ok so now the season came down to one game in San Diego for the division. The Chargers had just soundly beaten a good Bucs team (9-5 entering the game) by 17, scoring 21 unanswered points to end the game and holding the Bucs to a meager 8 first downs. I won't rehash this game in detail, but the Broncos got owned in all three facets of the game. The final was 52-21 and sadly, the game wasn't even as close as the score. The Broncos D was hapless and the Broncos offense was inneffective for most of the game.
So there was huge upheaval in the off-season after the unprecedented collapse: new HC, new assistants, huge roster turnover, QB drama - messy off-season.
Fast forward to December of 2009. The Broncos are in a fairly similar place at 8-5 and hoping for a playoff spot. This time it is a wild card berth. The Broncos have just lost 16-28 to the Colts in a game where our D figured out Peyton Manning after the first quarter. The Broncos are in battle with a bunch of teams, but 2 wins would have guaranteed a playoff spot and one win could have gotten the Broncos in depending on what else occurred, so the Broncos needed at least one win against these three opponents the 4-9 Raiders (led by the Hutt at QB) at home, the 9-4 Eagles (away) and the 3-10 Chiefs at home. This time the road seemed a little easier than in 2008. Two of the remaining three were at home against division rivals having bad seasons.
In the first game, the Broncos were unable to beat a team that could barely complete a pass (until the 4th quarter) mainly because the 2009 D was horrible against the run in the second half of the season. The Hutt finished the game 5 of 11 for 47 yards The Broncos took a 6-0 lead after faltering in the red zone twice. The Raiders scored 13 unanswered to lead by 7 at the half. The Broncos came back to take the lead by 6, but red-zone inefficiency again hurt (kicking a 21 yard FG to go up 6) as the Raiders were able to score a TD on the final drive giving the Hutt his only come-from-behind victory in his career. The Broncos lost despite being +2 in turnovers. At 8-6 the Broncos still controlled their fate, winning both of the remaining games would get the Broncos in.
The game against the Eagles started badly as the Eagles were moving the ball at will and took a 10-0 lead and lead 20-7 at the half. The Broncos looked really bad in the first half, with only one drive that wasn't 3 and out (a 12 play TD drive). The second half was much better as the Broncos were able to get two TDs that were set up by drives starting deep in Eagles territory. However, the inability to of the Broncos offense to do much (outside of 3 and out) ended up allowing the Eagles to kick a game winning field goal with only a few second left. The loss dropped the Broncos to 8-7 and now the Broncos would need to beat the 3-12 Chiefs in Denver and get help to make the playoffs.
The Chiefs were coming off of a hard fought loss to the Bengals in which neither team gained more than 295 yards on offense. The Broncos got the ball to start the game and did what they had so often done in the latter part of 2009, go 3 and out. The Chiefs proceeded to take the ball 86 yards for a TD on 4 plays (3 passes). Sadly, the Broncos would go on to tie the game twice, but were never able to take the lead. The Chiefs, much like the Eagles the week before, were able to pretty much do what they wanted on offense in the first half. The Broncos D kept the Chiefs O out of the end zone for most of the second half, but Orton threw two pick 6's to the same Chiefs LB and the Broncos really never recovered after the first. The final was 44-24, but the Broncos entered the 4th quarter only down by 3 and could not score at all with the season on the line.
Different coaching staff, many different players, yet the result was another humiliating late season collapse magnified by the previous year's debacle.
So why will this year be different?
Because this team has even less in common with the 2009 team than that team did with the 2008 team. Defensively both the 08 and 09 teams were bad at stopping the run and statistically good against the pass (mainly because teams didn't NEED to pass to beat the those teams). The 2011 Broncos are much better against the run and are also much better at stopping the opposing team on 3rd down. The 08 and 09 defenses had a way of making every RB look like Adrian Peterson and every QB look like Tom Brady. So far this year the Broncos D has made some QBs look really good, but has done a good job against RBs not names Matthews or McFadden.
Offensively the Broncos could not be more different from the 08 and 09 teams. Both of those teams were attempting to throw the ball as the main offensive weapon. In 08 the running game was destroyed by injuries and in 09 by coaching. The 2011 Broncos when they have been successful have moved the ball mainly on the ground and in doing so have been able to control the clock much more effectively than the 08 and 09 teams. On yeah, and Willis McGahee, when healthy, had been playing in beast mode.
The other reason why I think that this year will be different is that I don't think that this team will allow the loss to NE to shake their confidence and or their belief in each other.