55. That was the magic number for this offensive shootout. 55 points was the Vegas Over/Under for a primetime Sunday night football game that featured a dominant New Orleans Saints race car of an offense led by gunslinger Drew Brees against a sputtering Denver Broncos team that was struggling to find its pace and fire on all cylinders. The Saints less than stellar defense was supposed to be just the cure for our slow starting Broncos and the Broncos defense was about to be shredded yet again by a top 5 quarterback. When the final quarter ended one offense would reign supreme over the rubble of both teams defenses.
This was going to be real primetime football.
So confident was the public that both these offenses would score and score often that nearly 82% of the money landed on the over. 55 points? Pshh. Should be 60. Easy money. Pack your bags honey we're going to Blackhawk and going to buy one slick costume with our winnings.
As the sun-dipped a bright orange behind Mile High Stadium and the Denver Broncos Defense was introduced by name it would seem the stars were simply lining up to create a perfect storm (pardon the unintended pun) that a completely unprepared Saints team was about to experience full force. The Denver Broncos of Week 8, 2012 came to prove to an energized home crowd that they were here to take control of this division, and do it on both sides of the football.
The Denver Broncos are on a mission to bring back the home field advantage to that hallowed field that sits a Mile High. Last night, they finally put together a performance worthy of a team that considers itself elite.
I'll get to the Manning performance in a minute but there is simply no way you can talk about what happened last night without talking about our Broncos defense. This was a game that nobody would have blinked twice if they'd allowed 35+ points. The Saints are a dominant offense against nearly any defense but against a team that is struggling to ignite its pass rush and down a cornerback in Tracy Porter it was a recipe for a special kind of a disaster.
I have to imagine that with all the hype leading up to this game the defense must have taken it all a bit personally. They had been written off long before this game began. Nobody stops Drew Brees completely. Nobody.
Drew Brees' stat line last night was 22/42 for 213 yards, 2 TD's and 1 INT. The last time Drew Brees threw for less than 213 yards during the regular season was back in 2009... before his historic streak of touchdown passes in consecutive games began. Many have already declared that Drew Brees' performance was as much a result of a "down day" as it was a dominant Broncos performance. Perhaps it was even more so a result of his downer day. Please. I lived through the Tebow era. I've been prepared for these excuses.
Drew Brees was the victim of something we call cause and effect. The effect? Drew Brees' had a down day. The cause? The Denver Broncos defense. It is simple as that. Don't let anybody spin it any other way. Jack Del Rio put together a game plan that had the Broncos in his face constantly. A defense that forced him outside of the pocket and on the run. It wasn't until the 4th quarter when the Broncos had begun benching starters did Drew Brees finally get into any kind of rhythm (which has incidentally put my fantasy game at risk... so thanks for that Jack).
This was a game that the Saints needed to win... badly. The Atlanta Falcons are showing no signs of slowing their roll and the division is quickly fading out of reach. The wild cards in the NFC, however, are still in high contention even for a 2 win team but the Saints needed to keep the momentum they'd built after an awful 0-4 start. For the Broncos defense to completely shut down a team with their pedigree in that situation... there won't be nearly enough time spent this week praising the performance of our Broncos Defense.
Last season we talked a lot about consistency with the Denver Broncos across all three phases of the football. Rarely did we see all three phases play in sync and it led to far too many blowout losses and close wins. At the beginning of this season it seemed like Broncos had yet to kick those demons and the story of 2012 was looking a lot like story of 2011.
Last night the Broncos saw just how effective they can be when all three phases of their team play in cohesion. I hope that this performance has changed the Broncos' outlook on what their football team can do. It is okay to open the throttle early and we don't have to necessarily establish the run before we establish the pass. I'll admit, I was nervous when the Broncos were up 24-7 at the beginning of the third quarter that they would take their foot off the gas and go into "don't lose" mode, a John Fox classic. Instead, the Broncos did something we haven't seen in nearly two years. They kept moving the ball down the field on extended drives and gave an explosive Saints offense zero oxygen for their fire.
Peyton Manning had tapenade flowing through his veins last night. My Raider-loving wife and I had the opportunity to go to the game last night and while she normally wouldn't be caught dead at Mile High, the opportunity to watch two future legends in Peyton Manning and Drew Brees tee off was too good an event to miss. Manning didn't disappoint. After trading touchdowns in the first quarter, Peyton Manning separated himself from Drew Brees by creating consistent extended drives all game long and they did it on the ground just as much as through the air (in fact, the Broncos ran the ball 41 times to only 30 passing attempts). That's the true genius of a Manning led offense. It matters not if you run or pass, simply when you run and pass. Too long the Broncos have been debilitated by a predictable playcall. The Broncos of last night looked like they could put up 35+ on any defense and that comes down to the offensive mastermind that is Peyton Manning.
I wish that all of my readers out there could hear the local sports talk radio right now. You'd think the Broncos had survived the fires of Mordor and were arrived at the Yellow Brick Road that would undoubtedly lead us to the promised land known as the Super Bowl after yesterday's performance (how's that for a Lord of The Rings, Wizard of Oz and Moses analogy?).
We truly live in an all-or-nothing era when it comes to Broncos football. As encouraged as we all are after last night, keep in mind the Broncos dominated a team after they came off of a bye week... something that is historically a trend, even among mediocre teams. In fact, the last time the Broncos really blew someone out at home was (not including our win vs. the hapless Raiders in week 4) was the Kyle Orton led Broncos in week 10 of 2010, also after a bye (a 49-29 victory that saw the Chiefs score a couple worthless touchdowns in garbage time and nearly cost Champ Bailey a Pro-Bowl berth).
Bye weeks are more important than many people give them credit. Obviously the Broncos won't have the benefit of two weeks preparation for their next game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Now is when the real litmus test of the Broncos begin. They've proved to us they can be effective in all phases of the football. I think it's time to set aside the excuses of a wounded QB, a young WR corp, a slow-starting defense and a sometimes disastrous special teams. Those excuses are for mediocre teams playing mediocre football. We've seen this team play elite football and we've made enough excuses for their brutal first half schedule. To be the best you have to beat the best. If the Broncos truly have the easiest schedule through the rest of the season it's time for them to start acting like a dominating team. If they are going to take control of a division that is looking for a leader then consistency has to be the theme going forward.
The Broncos aren't going to blow out every team from here to the playoffs. History says we have to lose to the Chiefs once. Those strange games will happen. Teams will play out of their minds against us and we'll scratch our heads and wonder just what the heck happened. That happens to every team. I'm looking for this team to leave behind that idea that we beat bad teams and we just lose to great teams. Bronco Country, these Broncos are staking their claim to the "great team" category. The kind of team that can legitimately make a run to the Super Bowl.
I've had a taste of what this team can do. The rest of NFL got to see it in primetime. The Broncos have moved from pretenders to contenders and, like last year, all eyes are waiting for us to make our next move. The rest of the AFC West is officially very afraid of us. How much do you love that?
Let's go take care of business in Cincy.