Since Elway's departure, as a player, from the Broncos it has been a very up-and-down occasion. The Broncos have started five major QB's and we've tried to block out the Chris Simm's memories from 2009 that kept us from the playoffs, and we all want to forget Danny Kanell and Steve Beuerlein who did their best to stop the Broncos from making the playoffs in 2003. We've lived through the Plummer benching, the Bowlen/McD removal of Cutler, the Orton situation and most recently the Tebow incident. But despite all this drama, since Shanahan's firing (when many believe the franchise changed forever) I've had some of my happiest Broncos memories.
So while the Plummer years weren't bad, they didn't live up to expectations, similar to Jeff Garcia following Steve Young and Joe Montana. After Plummer's departure the Broncos haven't had a winning record, but after Plummer's last game, I've loved the Broncos and have had some of my happiest memories, so let's take a trip going back to 2007 and review some of the great times we've had as Broncos fans since the instability of Plummer's absence set in.
2007: The First of the Cutler Years
Raiders at Broncos:
The Broncos were playing well at the beginning of the season, going 1-0 up to start. But shortly after the second game of the season began, things looked bleak. Cutler was constantly harassed and most of the game the Broncos offense struggled, but they turned to recently acquired running back Travis Henry to carry the offense, and he came through, rushing for 128 yards and 4.9 yards per carry. They then relied on the ever-strong leg of Jason Elam to kick four field goals, making the last one to break the tie and win the game. Oh and it had a classic Shanny icing of Sebastion Janikowski, that never gets old.
Steelers at Broncos:
This game will always stand out to me as the game I felt Jay Cutler was going to be the quarterback we felt he could be. The Broncos were playing a strong Steelers team that was riding high with a 4-1 record. After struggling most of the game, Cutler was given 1:10 to break the tie and win the game. He could easily have just run the clock out and gone into overtime, instead he put together a nearly perfect drive spanning over 50 yards and ended with another classic Jason Elam 49 yard field goal.
2008: Cutler's Final Season
Chargers at Broncos:
This game was a real shootout between two QB's that were developing into fantastic passers. Cutler and Rivers went back and forth all day. Entering the 4th quarter the Broncos were nursing a four point lead but saw it disappear rapidly as the Chargers scored 10 unanswered points. With 4:22 remaining Cutler leads an amazing drive ending with a PERFECT 2-point conversion pass to Royal that gave the Broncos the one-point lead. Rivers was left with 24 seconds left and wasn't able to complete a deep pass to Chris Chambers as time expired.
Broncos at Browns:
The Broncos entered the game at 4-4 and needed a win to get back on track to try and make the playoffs. A struggling Cleveland team gave them the chance, but they put up more of a fight then many expected. Future Bronco Brady Quinn played one of the best games of his career, as did Jay Cutler and Eddie Royal. Cutler really showed off his arm as he threw the ball all over the field, especially on the best pass of the day to Eddie Royal for 93 yards. The 4th quarter saw three lead changes, and Cutler and the Broncos came out on top with a beautiful comeback with Cutler putting the ball into spots few quarterbacks could, and ending the game with a perfect pass to Brandon Marshall.
2009: McD and Orton Enter the Stage
Broncos at Bengals:
While most of the game was rough offensively since both defenses played very well, it all came down to one play, possibly the greatest catch in Broncos history, and ranks among the best in NFL history. You know the one, a certain Brandon Stokley making a catch of a deflection and just ran, I have only cheered like that a handful of times in my life. Not many single plays are as memorable as this one.
Cowboys at Broncos:
After going 3-0, the Broncos were looking to continue their streak against a talented Cowboys team. This lead to another defensive game, up until the last quarter when Kyle Orton and Brandon Marshall decided to win the game. With two-minutes left Orton hits Marshall on the sideline for what looks like a good catch that will stop the clock, instead Marshall goes on one of the best run-after-the-catch I've ever seen.
Patriots at Broncos:
Perhaps the most hyped game of McD's career, since it was the master against the apprentice. McD had a lot to prove, and going against his mentor, and a red-hot Patriots team, was the perfect way to do it, oh and we can't forget the throwback jerseys, those Brown and Mustard uni's were awesome. Orton and Brady went toe-to-toe and after a slow start, the Broncos offense started clicking. Between Jabar Gaffney catching a tipped ball between three Patriots, Marshall's two fantastic TD's and Orton's nearly perfect play lead to handing Tom Brady his first overtime loss of his career. Oh there was also the first pump! Overall, it just felt good to beat Belicheck, to continue the win streak, and to prove we could compete with the best teams.
2010: The Down Year
Broncos at Titans:
While there weren't many good times in 2010, the Titans game was one of the bright spots, and while this game lacked lots of big plays, it featured one of the best all around play from all three squads of the Broncos. Between solid play from Orton and great catches by Brandon Lloyd to Mario Haggan's forced fumble to the David Bruton and Cassius Vaughn kick off fumble and recovery to seal the win, it was a memorable experience.
Texans at Broncos:
Tim Tebow's second start, and first win, needs little introduction. In classic Tebow fashion, the offense struggled the entire first half, but came alive and scored 24 points in the 2nd half. Tebow showcased his running ability as well as some impressive passes to go along with that scrambling skill. Correll Buckhalter had one of the best games of his career, with 92 total yards and two touchdowns. For many this was the beginning of the belief in Tebow, similar to the Cutler game back in 2008 against the Chargers.
2011: Ups, Downs and Lots of In Between
Bengals at Broncos:
This game was the time where Eric Decker made his presence known with 113 yards and two touchdowns. Orton played very well, and it was an unlikely shoot out as the Broncos had lost 6 starters, most on defense. Add in a 100-yard game from Willis McGahee and a key sack from rookie Von Miller, we were provided a great game to watch as the Broncos continued their record of owning the Bengals.
Broncos at Dolphins:
In Tebow's fourth start of his career, and the first of the 2011 season, it was a nail biter. After struggling almost the entire game, Tebow turned up his game with only a few minutes left, leading the team to 15 points. Then came overtime. Matt Moore was in a groove, had played well most of the game, and was driving the Dolphins into Broncos territory. But out of nowhere DJ Williams makes an unbelievable strip-sack, and while the Broncos offense struggled when they got the ball, they were already in range of the beast that is known as Matt Prater, who nailed a 52 yarder to win the game. Few games showcased Tebow's style and few games had such a shocking turn of events as Williams strip-sack and Tebow's late comeback.
Steelers at Broncos:
This game doesn't require much in the way of description, so I'll leave it with just one play...
Conclusion and a New Chapter Beginning:
Between the many McD quotes ("Just win a mother F'ing game" and "No more 'my bad'" to name a few) to the great heights of Cutler, Orton and Tebow, we've had a lot of fun times these past few years, we just can't forget them when times are hard. Let's remember these great times, let's remember that not all the McD times were bad, let's not forget that Cutler didn't just suck, and that Orton wasn't all bad. Let's remember the good, and move on from the bad. As times pass I'll remember these games and the bad times will fade from my memory.
With Manning's arrival a new chapter begins, we've had two others since Elway's retirement, the Griese and Plummer Chapter and the Chapter of Change. As this new chapter begin, let's remember the good of the past as we look forward to this new period in Broncos history.