The Denver Broncos set out on a nearly impossible task on Sunday--winning on the road against Tom Brady and the Patriots. Through nearly the entire first three quarters, the beloved Mile High boys looked like a group of girl scouts, getting trounced by Brady's crew 31-7. Then, something clicked. The Broncos got it rolling offensively and closed the gap to 31-14 after an Eric Decker touchdown catch on a beautiful back shoulder (ankle?) throw from Peyton Manning.
The Broncos were then able to get the ball back in good scoring range after Tom Brady was sacked when the Patriots decided to go for in in no-man's land on fourth and five. That drive was set up by a dropped fourth down pass by Willis McGahee, whose catch could have brought the Broncos within striking distance. Brady was sacked and stripped by Von Miller, and the Broncos were once again in business.
Manning capped another drive off with a touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley, putting Denver down by only 10 points. This all of a sudden looked like a game, until the Broncos flubbed an 'onside' kick and gave the Patriots great field position. Then, something miraculous happened. There were shades of 2011 when Stevan Ridley got a little over-aggressive with a carry and was stripped on a run with over three minutes remaining. It was the God-send the Broncos needed to get back in the game, and Manning had the team in touchdown range in no time.
When the Broncos got in the red zone, Willis McGahee again made a critical error, fumbling on a run that would have set the Broncos even closer to bringing the game to just a field goal difference.
McGahee's fumble effectively ended the Broncos' miraculous attempt at a comeback, but that wasn't the play that derailed Denver's hopes on Sunday.
The Broncos' woes can be traced back to one play, a play early in the third quarter. The defense had just come up with a huge three-and-out on Tom Brady and the Patriots after facing a 10 point deficit at halftime. The offense got the ball back, and got to around midfield before being faced with a 3rd-and-4 situation. The play call here is easy--put the ball in your superstar's hands.
Apparently, that was not so easy for the Denver coaching staff.
The play called was a lazy draw to Lance Ball, who barely got back to the line of scrimmage, and the Broncos were forced to punt. The Patriots promptly drove the ball straight down the field for a touchdown, and then strip-sacked Peyton Manning on the next Broncos possession, promptly giving them a 31-7 and ultimately insurmountable lead.
Brighter Days Ahead?
The Broncos have me slightly worried, I'm not going to lie. They got a quality win against the Steelers in that week one primetime matchup, but they have now been beaten by arguably the NFL's top three overall teams. After watching the Patriots today and last week, it's a wonder to me that they are not 5-0. Their offense is unstoppable, seemingly, and while their defense isn't great by any means, they were able to force three very timely turnovers on Sunday.
Denver has had a really bad habit of this season of starting slow, which isn't anything new to any of us, and that has to change. The Broncos looked like they were going to get out to a quick 7-0 lead before Demaryius Thomas lost his third fumble in as many games.
Even against the Raiders, the Broncos were up just 10-6 at the half before completely dominating the second half. I suppose if we get out of the first half of a game with a lead, we should pretty much consider it lights out for the opposing team.
In order for Manning to win the MVP, the Broncos need to start winning games, flat out. However, Manning is putting up huge numbers and he's looking as sharp as ever. Still, Manning teams never really lost this many games, from what I can remember. Obviously, the chemistry is not fully there for the entire team, and that needs to get together sooner rather than later.
Manning has three straight games of 330 yards or more, and in those last three games, he's thrown eight touchdown passes. He's really starting to get into a groove, not making any mistakes as far as interceptions since the Broncos were beaten on Monday night football against the Falcons.
Targets Taking Shape
As slow as the offense has been to start out games, you have to be pleased with what you've seen from Denver's weaponry this year. The tight ends we acquired in the offseason have been spectacular additions, Brandon Stokley not only made the team but he's been huge for us, and the wide receivers that were expected to rise up have risen in a big way.
Specifically, Demaryius Thomas is an unstoppable force, if you discount his fumblitis. He had nine receptions for 188 yards, and his stock arrow is pointing sky-high. He could be a top five or ten receiver in the league before the year is out.
...Where to begin? Mays' performance on Sunday is one he will just want to burn the tape of and start from the drawing board. I'm not saying he's the reason we lost, but there's a reason Wes Welker was wide open over the middle on almost every play, and it's not all Chris Harris' fault. Mays was pretty much looking around on every play, trying to figure out how to cope with New England's offense. It was a dreadful performance in all by the Denver D, but Mays stood out.
Give Willis a Break
Our Pro Bowl running back had a stellar week against Oakland, and came out against New England and had a key drop on fourth and one, then fumbled when the Broncos could have punched one in and been down by just three points with over three minutes remaining (with two timeouts).
Still, I think we need to ease up on Willis. He's a huge part of this team, and while he needs to cure the fumbling problem, we need him to step up big this season. Obviously, this can't happen much more, but we can't put the loss on Willis' shoulders.
3rd and 17
Twice the Patriots converted with this down and distance, or very similar to it. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe those were both on touchdown drives as well.
That disgusts me.
Beat. The. Chargers.
If we go into the bye at 2-4, we're going to be sorry about it. San Diego's hanging tough against New Orleans as this is being typed, but we need to go into our bye week with a 3-3 tie atop the AFC West along with San Diego. A 2-4 record with our remaining schedule is going to be a huge difference, even if it's just one game. Monday night's game against San Diego is a must-win game, even on the road, and Peyton Manning has to know it.
It's a long season in the NFL, but those seasons can be cut short the longer you wait to put it together. The Broncos need to be aggressive against the Chargers and force them to make mistakes. Kyle Orton won in San Diego, so Manning better be able to.