But then again they struggled early on in 2012. After an 11-game winning streak straight up the AFC rankings to #1 last year, many people forget just how much our team struggled early on. There was a terrible quarter of play by newly acquired Peyton Manning in Atlanta, one that doomed our fate on a national stage. Then big play after big play was given up by our secondary to the Houston Texans. A brief respite from the barrage was given to us in the form of the Raiders, only to followed up by yet another loss to the New England Patriots.
What were our issues as a team? Inconsistency. Those early Broncos had a tough time offensively getting off to slow start after slow start. In the opener against Pittsburgh, our offense put up a measly 14 points in 3 quarters and trailed 19-14 at the beginning of the 4th quarter. Against Atlanta, only one of the greatest catches in 2012 saved the Broncos from going into halftime with a 20-0 deficit. Instead it would stand at 20-7. The following week against the Texans, a late Prater FG made the score at the half 21-11 with our Broncos facing a 31-11 mountain to climb heading into the final quarter.
The Raiders still had a shot after two quarters after our Broncos dominated the 1st half to the tune of a 4-point lead. We managed just 7 points in the first half against NE. Until the wave of momentum shifted in that 2nd half against the Chargers, the Denver Broncos were a team without an identity. That's an incorrect statement, let me fix that. Until 35 unanswered in the span of two quarters, the Broncos could be summed up by one word: inconsistent. We moved the ball offensively only to stall on 3rd down or cough up the ball in a costly turnover. Defensively, we played great on 1st and 2nd down only to see the opposing offense convert on 3rd and long. We flashed brilliance with our pass rush only to give it up on the back end when our secondary would allow a big play. Those Broncos were trying to figure out who they were. It took 5 full games and the half of another before things started to "click".
Funny how this year might be marked out in the same time frame with the Von Miller suspension looming...
Whereas last year's team was trying to form on both sides of the ball, this year's team is going to struggle defensively. You don't lose your two greatest pass rushers and remain an elite defense. It's time to stop perpetuating the delusion. Von/Doom, the names that struck fear in bookend tackles from the edge are no more. Doom is off playing fax machine in Baltimore and Von will be lost for anywhere from 4-6 games due to stupidity. With their departure, and more specifically the loss of Miller comes uncertainty in other areas.
Sure Shaun Phillips can step in at rush end, but who steps in for Von? You don't fill those shoes with anyone else, period. Del Rio can scheme and plan and call the greatest defense he's ever called in his career and this unit will still struggle. Nevermind the fact that we have a third year player coupled with a 2nd year UDFA rookie as our two safeties. Nevermind the fact that Champ Bailey might be gone longer than anyone expects on the outside. Nevermind the fact that now the Broncos will field one of the smallest LB corps in the NFL in Trevathan, Woodyard, and Irving. That 660 lbs of beef in the middle has looked like nothing more than a couple of quarter pounders from McDonalds. We will struggle.
You know why we're paying a 37-year old elite money to play QB for this team? Because this is what he's done his entire career. Sure it would be great if our team was strong top to bottom, the most complete talent Peyton Manning has ever had surrounding him, and we still might become that team midseason. But until then, this is why he's paid the big bucks. He has to carry this team. I don't like it, you don't like it--I would much rather see this team dominate on all sides of the ball but the NFL is not a perfect world and everyone has to face adversity. Just as the defense held things together while our offense sputtered and struggled to score points early on last year, this offense has to hold things together and be prepared to win shootouts. Outside of the center position and the uncertainty at RB, the offense is loaded and primed to light up the scoreboard. It will have to in order to keep our team competitive on a week to week basis.
For years Peyton Manning shouldered the load in Indy, so much so that when he was finally gone, that team had no shot to stand on it's own two feet. Our team is much better off than they were, but we will have to rely on Peyton to keep our heads above water.
Last year after more than a year away from football, still recovering from an injury that forced him how to relearn how to throw a football, Manning put up the 2nd greatest season in his storybook career. A year later, he is primed for a role reprisal, only this time the offense has a year under its belt. Peyton Manning is now Mr. Bronco. This isn't anything new for him, Peyton is used to facing adversity, used to shouldering the heavy load. What better way to cap off an unbelievable road to recovery than by putting he Broncos on his back on the road to the Super Bowl?
Do you folks remember the Shanahan years? Fast starts, shaky defense, and hang-on-to-your-seat excitement at the end? All I can say is we're in for one hell of a ride and I'm sure glad #18 is the one steering the ship. Keep your heads up Broncos Country, it's not how you start, it's how you finish. Super Bowl or Bust.