Next on the schedule is none other than the Cincinnati Bengals. We've seen some pretty good preview posts, already, in my opinion, but this one is going to be slightly different. While taking an examination in ancient History class on Thursday, I got to thinking about the miraculous Brandon Stokley catch. It is, essentially, ancient history to the Denver Broncos. It was under a different head coach. There were different assistant coaches. There were different players on the roster.
But one thing that connects 2009 with 2011 is Kyle Orton.
As I began to really dive into this history, I quickly realized that the Cincinnati Bengals have been a very important team to Kyle Orton. In two matchups with this AFC North foe, two very different but very important events transpired that have, collectively, prolonged Kyle Orton's career in Denver.
Follow me through my thought process, for a moment...
Broncos @ Bengals - Week 1, 2009
Take yourself into the past. It is opening day of the 2009 NFL season. The Denver Broncos travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium. The game is relatively uneventful, a 7-6 affair with less than a minute to play. Kyle Orton and the rest of the Broncos offense are pegged deep in their own territory after Eddie Royal attempts to return the ball from 4 yards deep in the endzone and is tackled down at the Broncos' 13 yard line.
Orton is forced to throw deep. First and 10 is an incompletion that is almost picked off along the near sideline.
2nd and 10, however, is when the miracle takes place. With just 28 seconds left, Orton throws the ball deep to the left towards Brandon Marshall. The ball is tipped and caught by Brandon Stokley for an incredible 87 yard touchdown pass.
Over the next 5 weeks, the Broncos play inspired, emotional football and embark on an improbable 6-0 record. Although, the Broncos finish the year 2-8, the 6-0 emotional start gives Broncos fans enough hope that Kyle Orton should be the starter into the future. Heck, the 6-0 start even encouraged me to write a post defending Kyle Orton, due to the vast amount of frustration that was directed towards him after the 2-8 finish. In the post, I concluded:
Kyle Orton's problems were caused by his unfamiliarity with the system, his injuries, Ryan Harris' injuries, fatigue from the older interior offensive linemen, and lack of confidence from the Broncos, going down the stretch. Part of the blame goes to Orton, part of the blame goes to his teammates, and part of the blame goes to uncontrollable circumstances such as injuries.
But, let's think about it, in retrospect.
What happens if Brandon Stokley doesn't make the miraculous catch in Cincinnati?
The answer, in my opinion, is quite simple. The Broncos don't finish 8-8.
I know there are some of you out there thinking something along the lines of "7-9 doesn't exactly change a whole lot, as far as our opinion of Kyle Orton is concerned". Well, I think we lose a lot more than just that single game in Cincinnati.
Think about it. The key to the 6-0 start was momentum and emotion. Do you really believe that we beat Dallas without being 3-0 coming into the stadium? Do we beat New England if we have a 2-2 record? What about San Diego at 2-3? I don't think so. Those games were won with confidence and emotion. Without an undefeated record going into those games, I don't think we win any of them.
Worst case, I think the Broncos could have gone 2-4 to start the season, if Brandon Stokley doesn't make the catch. Best case, the Broncos go 4-2, in my opinion. Either way, a 4-2 start doesn't have nearly as much of a ring to it as 6-0. Does it?
So, how did the miraculous catch against Cincinnati save Kyle Orton? To this point, Kyle Orton's only claims to fame in Denver were the 4th quarter comebacks in 2009 to earn a 6-0 start. If that 6-0 record became a 4-2 record (or worse), Orton's job isn't nearly as safe. At the end of the 2009 season, there wasn't a lot of confidence in Orton, to begin with. Take away his 6-0 start and you've got a 7-9 (or worse) quarterback with the fans at his throat.
That was the first meeting between Orton and the Bengals. Many people forget about the 2010 meeting, however.
Broncos @ Bengals - Preseason Week 1, 2010
A preseason game? Yeah... a preseason game.
This was the second meeting against the Bengals that helped prolong Kyle Orton's career in Denver. The Broncos, for the second year in a row, traveled to Cincinnati for the first preseason game of the 2010 preseason. The final scores of preseason games are often meaningless and this one was no different. The Bengals won, if you don't remember, but that's unimportant, like I said. What was important, however, was what happened on the final snap of the preseason game.
Tim Tebow, the Denver Broncos' 1st round pick, dove into the endzone for a touchdown and was blasted from both sides by Cincinnati defenders. It was his first rushing touchdown in the NFL, but it came at a cost. He broke his ribs.
Subsequently, Tim Tebow was not seen in the preseason week 2 matchup against the Lions. In terms of development, this week (or more, depending on how long this injury lingered) was quite important. As a rookie in the NFL, any and all time that you get on the practice field and in game situations is beneficial for your development. You need time to play.
Did this set back in development impact the order of the quarterback depth chart last year? Probably not, but it could have impacted the order of the depth chart, this year. Tebow lacked a full offseason of coaching in 2011. Nobody will ever know whether or not something could or would have "clicked" if Tebow had not injured himself early in 2010 and had extra time to work with Josh McDaniels.
I know that this article presents a lot of hypotheticals and "what ifs", but I think the moral of this mental exercise is to illustrate that the Cincinnati Bengals have been instrumental in prolonging the career of Kyle Orton in Denver. If not for the miracle catch in week 1 of the 2009 season and the broken ribs of Tim Tebow in 2010, Kyle Orton could be in boiling water, right now, as opposed to hot water.
Could the Bengals propel Kyle Orton and the Broncos into another 6 game winning streak, this week?
Time will tell.