Think back over your sports experience and consider the teams that have won championships. Would you agree that for the vast majority of them they had players who could perform in the clutch? Consider even our own Denver Bronco Superbowls. We were clutch teams. The Drive, perhaps one of the most clutch sequences in all of sports is one of the crowning achievements on our Hall of Fame QB's resume. I'm always amazed by how certain players simply rise to the occasion nearly every time when the game is on the line.
Peyton Manning is the king of the 2-minute drill. Cardinals head coach Wisenhunt remarked after their gut-wrenching loss to the Steelers in the Superbowl that when the Cardinals drove down and scored to go ahead with a few minutes left in the 4th quarter they had given Big Ben and the Steelers too much time. They were too good a team in the 4th quarter. Kobe Bryant is the king of the 4th quarter and has punished teams for years in the playoffs with his endgame play.
In my opinion, it is critical for a team to have at least one player that can consistently win in the 4th quarter if they want to become a consistent contender year after year.Admittedly, there is always more to winning a football game than simply being great in the 4th quarter. You have to be good in the three before. If you can't stay in a game in the first three quarters you are simply outmatched by your opponent and you could have David Hasselhoff as your QB and you still wouldn't win.
The key here is that if you can stay in the game until the 4th quarter, if your team has that ability to close games you can consistently hold a lead, or win the game from behind if you have players that play their best when the game is close and the time is counting down. In a sport where two or three wins is often more than enough to get you into the playoffs or knock you out of them, owning the 4th quarter is critical.
List of things/people in 2010-2011 that were not clutch.
Lindsay Lohan - her number of return prison tours is beginning to rival Depeche Mode's attempts at career revival.
Paul McCartney - apparently at divorce number 9. I ran the stats and the number of times this guy changes women is inversely correlated to the number of times he changes his hair style. Stats baby.
Rashard Mendenhall - Apparently it truly is possible to ruin your PR repuation in 150 characters or less. I cannot even express the fact that Mendenhall ruined his reputation in 150 characters or less. That's just impressive. I'm not even angry.
Rockies relief pitcher Felipe Paulino - this guy is the anti-clutch. If winning games were meth he would be that Meth Kills board in the middle of town.
OBL was not clutch - and let's hope he's gone gone, and not Tupac gone.
The 2010 Denver Broncos were not clutch.
What makes this even worse is that Broncos were not even good enough to warrant the need in most games. I had myself so convinced that this Denver Broncos team was just consistently on the losing end of bad luck I broke into my dusty box of college crap to find my old calculator, which was stuffed next my old lava lamp and the Dido CD I swore I never owned.
I approached this issue armed with a bunch of numbers and a calculator with no batteries. Sh*t was about to get real.
After hours and hours of what I call analysis but what any stats teacher would call a trainwreck of Excel spreadsheets, I've come to the conclusion that whatever ailed the Broncos this past year wasn't the result of a few bad breaks. You probably could have told me that, right?
The Broncos were not a clutch team because they didn't need to be. They were down an average of 11.2 points heading into the fourth quarter and even with the offense under Tebow scoring an average of 10.33 points per 4th, it couldn't have overcome that kind of deficit.
Still, this exercise wasn't a complete loss. It has helped me create a new set of opinions on how I think the Broncos need to continue improving to regain their status as an elite team in the NFL. Perhaps breaking down the Broncos 4th quarter closing ability is putting the cart before the Mucho Macho Man, so to speak*.
*I challenged myself to somehow include the Kentucky Derby in this post in some way/shape/form/fashion and that was the best I could do. Derby Fail.
The Broncos Need to Get Good Before They Get Clutch
I'm optimistic that the Broncos have made the necessary changes and are returning the necessary personnel to be a "good" team this year. No stats to support that claim, but my gut feels comfortable expecting as much. I fully expect the average point deficit heading into the 4th quarter to be considerably less than 11.2. Before the Broncos can focus on winning the 4th quarter they must start keeping the game close in the first three. This is critical.
The Broncos have already significantly bettered themselves personnel-wise through the draft and by bringing back a healthy Dumervil. Their coaching strategy is about to take a turn toward a more veteran, run-oriented playcaller. If the Broncos can prove this next season that they can be good enough to win games in the first three quarters and remove the need to close games at the end I will be encouraged. They don't have to win 10 or 12 games, but I if we can put up an 8-spot or so by being solid and lose some heartbreakers in the 4th you won't hear too much griping here.
The Broncos must get at least "good" this season. Getting good is going to start with defense.
The Broncos Need the Defense To Right Its Ship
Miller needs to be solid. I have no doubt this kid will struggle like every rookie at times but unfortunately he, like Cam Newton, are going to teams with the expectation that they are going to earn their keep from the first snap. I'm very excited to see him in action.
Dumervil will need to shake off the rust quickly. Our defense is going to return a captain this year while mentoring a young future captain. The talent will be there, the execution needs to happen. There's a lot of Orange Crush talk being tossed around right now and while I love the way it sounds and I have recently found myself sneaking some of it out of the soda fountain because it makes me feel good, let's not get ahead of ourselves here.
Let's shore up our mistakes. Let's get at the QB. I want to see an end of year highlight reel of us punishing Rivers to the soundtrack of O Brother Where Art Thou. I want to see us lock up the run offenses tighter than Osama's super secret unreleasable proof of retirement pictures. I want to see improvement so that our defense can set up our offense to get those wins.
The Broncos Need The Offense To Be Clutch
Last year the defense wasn't ready to be clutch. The coaching wasn't ready to be clutch. Our offense, however, was ready to be clutch. The Broncos proved that they could score, just not quite as quickly as the defense bled points. But if this defense gets better our offense needs to return this year and take it to the next step.
The Broncos offense must own the 4th quarter this season. I don't care what it takes. If it takes pictures of Frodo Freaking Baggins on every wall of the locker room then do it! The Broncos need to be able to enter the 4th quarter down by 7 or less or up by 7 or less and come away with a victory. This is what will set the foundation for a championship in the future.
Our defense is playing catch-up right now but they are being led by a guy who has a history of taking worst defenses and making them great defenses. I do find that encouraging.
The more I look at these stats the more I am reminded that none of these things are going to just happen and none of these things are going to be easy. Every other team in the NFL right now is attempting to better their organization (with the exception of the Minnesota Vikings apparently) at the exact same or better rate than us. I hope this process is as short and sweet as one offseason, but I am preparing myself to look for encouraging signs of improvement and play the patience game.
The Bronco Fans Need To Be Clutch
Patience. If there were a pill I could give the Broncos to make them magically better by August but if using that pill meant that every blue pill would be wiped off the face of the planet I would wouldn't hesitate to bring doomsday to the peeps of middle-aged men the world round. I've got to find Bradley Cooper, maybe he still has one from his latest movie...
Unfortunately Pfizer is too powerful to make that an option and we are stuck with the hard way. For me the bottom line is that I can crunch, divide, pretend to graph numbers until I want to put a drill through my temple but the reality is that every stat, no matter how solid, is always an asymptote. It never quite gets you there. That said, I think that working with stats to better understand your team and this game is great. To a certain extent it is necessary.
That said, you can't ever discount your gut and mine is telling me that for some reason I have reason to be encouraged about what is happening within our organization. Maybe next year won't be our breakout year, but I do expect it to be a better year. We've been put through a ridiculous amount of frustration these past few months and it's time for fans to be clutch.
Can we make it out the other side of this disaster and look back and remember these as the tough times of change before the good times began again? Times like these are the fourth quarter for fans. Let's just hope we are only being asked to complete our own 2-minute drill.
That is my case for clutch. You can't hardly beat a team that has it, and it's tough to lose when you are the team with it. Perhaps the Broncos aren't quite ready for that yet, but let's hope that the flashes we've seen in the past turn into a real fire.