While a "comeback" technically means that the team coming back has won the game, as a Bronco fan with a memory of the recent past, I'll take what I can get, and a near comeback will have to be good enough during a season which has seen the "improvement" curve for this young team take several sharp turns in the wrong direction at inopportune times.
Looking back at my notes, I wanted to get a good feel for just what constituted the resurgence of morale and opportunity in this game, and to that end I have created the following bullet list with the essentials of the comeback series, a group of plays on both offense and defense that were prefaced by multiple 3 and outs for the Denver offense in a seemingly hopeless cause, even with Tebow entering the game.
- After 3 offensive stalls with 11 lackluster plays, it isn't looking like Tebow is making much of a difference yet. However, the defense manages to stiffen at the right time to continue the early game trend of forcing FGs in the redzone.
- Finally, the defense gets things started. On 3rd and 9 Von Miller's pressure leads to a sack, with Marcus Thomas helping. The ensuing short punt and decent return set Denver up with their best field position of the day.
- Denver scores in 4 plays. One play is a fumbled snap, but otherwise, Tebow and McGahee's feet win the day here, with long draw play by McGahee, a 1st down scramble by Tebow,and then a QB draw out of an empty backfield in the redzone for the TD. Followed by the McGahee counter for 2 pts, momentum has officially turned.
- After dilly-dallying on offense for most of the 2nd half, San Diego starts to throw on 1st down again, but a huge play on a 5 man pressure on 1st down nets Ayers a forced fumble. Big Mo' still on the Broncos' side.
- Denver scores in 3 plays, including another called QB draw (beautifully blocked by Beadles and Larsen), a nice 1st down conversion for McGahee and finally the huge screen pass, well executed by Tebow, blocked great, with tremendous effort from Moreno. No 2 pt conversion begins the trend of falling back out of contention in this game.
- Defense allows a FG on the next drive, mainly due to an amazing pass by Rivers to hang onto the ball till the very last second vs. a safety blitz. Goodman has the inside leverage early in a play like that, without any safety help, and the key is to get pressure and force that inside throw quickly, but River's patience in the face of a big hit allows Floyd to make the adjustment and get by Goodman. There really isn't any satisfactory answer for a play like that. A bogus penalty adds insult to injury after that and the ensuing FG makes the game a nearly unreachable win at that point.
- Vs a prevent, Denver executes well, with an amazing play by Lloyd, and with Tebow taking his time to make the right decisions and manage the clock. But a Hail Mary pass is the last refuge of the desperate for a reason. Game over, no comeback this time.
In breaking this exciting denouement down, it really became clear to me how much this team is struggling to put a legitimate passing game threat on the field, and cemented in my mind why the Orton decision took so long to come about. Outside of a screen pass, in no way did passing contribute to the comeback effort. The hail mary is hardly a test of skill at the QB position, so it doesn't factor in negatively or positively. The plays against the prevent at the end of the game are also not really the measure of a QB or of passing game efficacy.
I knew that Tim's running sparked the offense, but until I broke it down, I hadn't grasped how completely it was the ONLY thing sparking the offense, and complementing a truly commendable performance by the Oline and McGahee on the day.
This is THE problem going forward, and fixing it is going to be the main focus.
We have GOT to be able to pass the ball, or 1 win in 4 will be our ceiling. The Broncos have two weeks to work on a midseason version of the offseason for Tim and the offensive staff, assuming that some conservative little red devil on Fox's shoulder doesn't convince him to ...wait for it... take one last stab at the Orton era. (A fitting theme for the month of Halloween, no?). There are a number of suitable offensive variants that the Broncos and Tim can embrace without trashing the current system. There are also a number of limited concepts that can act as relief valves for the Broncos to "release the Tebow" if they want to continue to run the complete offense as it currently exists (consider this hedging against injury). This is what we get to spend the next few weeks talking about.
Bottom line is that this game was a 3 game swing in the division, and may have been, for all intents and purposes our first playoff game of the year, and losing it means exactly what that indicates it means.
The excitement of those final drives was palpable, but don't fall into the trap of thinking that a full game of that is possible in the offense's current incarnation.
It'll take more than charisma and a well run QB draw to turn the fortunes of this offense around.