Last year, I went on a trip with some friends to LP Field in Nashville and watched the Broncos beat the Titans, thanks to a fourth quarter comeback from Kyle Orton. I was hoping to see another victory on Sunday to improve my live Broncos game record to 2-1.
Unfortunately, I was not rewarded with a second annual victory. Instead, what I witnessed was a tough game that was decided by a 4th and goal and Brett Kern first down run. Those two plays cost the Broncos 10 points. In a 3 point loss, you can point the finger at a couple big plays and speculate about how things could have been different. All things aside, though, I really did enjoy the trip.
It started out with a scare. My dad had spent the night at my house in Louisville so that we could get an early start on Sunday morning. We awoke at 7 am eastern time and had breakfast at Denny's about a mile from my house. As we talked and ate, a man started talking to us about the Broncos. We were wearing orange Broncos gear, so it's not surprising that random people would talk to us about the game.
He asked, "So, when are the Broncos going to start Brady Quinn?"
I sat there for a while, a little confused about the question. Was he really talking about Brady Quinn? I could understand if he was talking about Tim Tebow, the first round quarterback who is known for his college stats and undeniable fanfare.
He had, indeed, asked about Brady Quinn. I responded "probably not for a while". It was the only answer I could come up with during this moment of confusion. After talking with the guy for a few minutes, we discovered that he was a Notre Dame fan. It finally made sense! Homers will be homers.
So, what was the scare? During this conversation, I realized that we had left the house without the game tickets. Fortunately, my dad and I were still in Louisville and could easily drive back to the house without losing too much time. It was almost a disastrous day.
As we were driving to pick up the tickets, I wondered how I would explain myself to the rest of the MHR staff and some of you guys on MHR who knew that I was going to the game if I had driven 3 hours to Nashville with the game tickets on my desk at home.... I never came up with a good excuse.
We continued to drive. And drive. And drive. It was a long drive. I listened to some music and my dad took a nap for a little while. Once we arrived in Nashville, however, things got much more exciting. We parked in a $25 lot and were instructed that we had 1 hour after the final whistle to move the car before the gates closed. This parking spot was about a mile from the stadium. Dad and I figured that it would be a manageable time frame, if not for the tens of thousands of people walking at an extremely slow pace. Fortunately, at the end of the day, we arrived at the car before they locked us out of the parking lot. I figured that I should tell you all, now, so that you wouldn't worry all the way through this article.
Anyways, we arrived through the gates and walked up to our seats in section 305. Not one Titans fan talked smack to me, this year. I was slightly disappointed. So, as we sat down, we looked around the field to take in all of the pregame activities. The players were warming up on the field and I noted that Tim Tebow was throwing the ball. Last week, he was reportedly catching passes. This was a sight to see... a quarterback throwing passes. A novel idea, but in practice is a welcome sight.
My dad made an interesting note that I quite agree with. As we looked around the stadium, atop the scoreboard was a sign for LP Building Products. The sign was orange and blue. After all of the outrage over Sports Authority putting up red signs on Mile High Stadium, wouldn't it be interesting if the Broncos and Titans simply traded their sponsorships? We could get the orange and blue in our stadium and they could get the blue and red in theirs. It's a bit of a different red hue in Tennessee, but at least it is close.
Thoughts During the Game
As the game began, the Broncos quickly put 7 points on the board. Throughout the contest, it was quite obvious that the Titans defense was going to stack the box and force us to beat them in the passing game. Their defensive line was having a field day, especially against Zane Beadles. We couldn't get the ground game going, partly because we couldn't get the passing game going. There was only one play where I thought we totally out-schemed them. In the first half, we lined up with a two back formation. Orton signaled for them to clear out and become wide receivers. Spencer Larson went to the far side (from my perspective in the stadium) and Willis McGahee went to the near side. Since the Titans were running a zone scheme, at that point, Cortland Finnegan was forced to take Willis McGahee. Brandon Lloyd became the slot receiver and was matched up on a different defender. Orton took the snap and threw a quick pass to Lloyd for a gain of a couple yards. After that play, I couldn't help but smile. However, for the rest of the game, I felt that the chess match wasn't nearly as prevalent. The Broncos were pretty predictable, in my opinion, and I would have loved to see some adjustments.
The routes to the flat were especially bothersome to me. They worked, every now and again, because of the amount of slants and quick outs that we threw. Decker had a couple of good receptions against the soft zone, many of them coming from a simple flat route. At the end of the game, I think the corners were selling out on the flat route. On the final drive, Kyle Orton threw a pass to his right flat (couldn't tell who the receiver was because all I saw was a Titans jersey) and it was inches from being a pick six. In that situation, the flat route was sniffed out and the ball should never have been thrown. However, the main reason that I bring this up is because I would have really loved to see an out and up route to take advantage of the defense's anticipation of the flat route. When the receiver runs into the flat, have him turn his head towards the quarterback, expecting pass. This will make the defender try and jump the route. At that moment, turn back up field and hopefully the safety hasn't come down to help offer support to the corner. A nice pass to the sideline in that situation can spring a big play.
But it was things like that where I was really confused about how the game was turning out. We didn't seem to get creative, at all.
On defense, I felt that the Broncos did a pretty good job. With Von Miller out there, we have a chance to make big plays. The guy had 2 forced fumbles in this game. What more can you ask for? There's really not much more to say about him. Even after the game, as my dad and I were trying to talk about positives that we saw in Nashville, all we would say is "Von Miller is a keeper" or "(sarcastically) We shoulda taken Dareus".
You know who else stood out? Jonathan Wilhite. Did you know that he is tied for the team lead in sacks? For whatever reason, offenses don't account for him coming off the edge. He picked up a sack against Matt Hasselbeck and the Titans fans behind us were saying "Who was that? What is that guy's name?" It's really fun to be able to yell out a players' name while people around you are clueless about who you are talking about. Wilhite is one of those guys. Maybe the fact that he's not a well known figure is what makes him so dangerous coming off the edge. Offenses don't account for him because they are trying to account for some of the bigger names on the Broncos defense. Does he get beat in coverage? Yes, but if he can keep coming up with big plays, I'm willing to forgive him.
Post Game Thoughts
As the Titans ran out the clock and we began to walk down the ramps to ground level, it was a much different atmosphere than the year before. The fans were yelling "WOOOOOO", an homage to Rick Flair, who is a staple of the LP Field jumbotron. Last year, what was most notable about the walk down these ramps was the total silence. There was no music, no talking, no cheering... just silence. This year, it was very different. There was lots of music playing from the public address system and numerous fans yelling and screaming.
As my dad and I were walking on the sidewalk, amongst thousands of Titans fans and hundreds of Broncos fans, we began to talk about the fourth and goal. What were the fans going to say about it? Would they be more upset about the lack of execution or John Fox's decision to go for it?
Then, my dad said something that proved to be an astute observation. "They'll find a way to make it about Tebow."
Of course, they will.
As we got into the car, I opened up 850 KOA on my smartphone so that we could listen to what Broncos fans had to say about the situation. The first caller insisted that Tim Tebow would have scored on 4th and goal. Dad was right. We turned off the radio and just talked the rest of the way home. At that point, we were putting the loss behind us and focusing on the real reason that we came to the game... to hang out with each other. The thing that I took away from this weekend, apart from the nasty sunburn that I acquired, was a great weekend spent with my dad.
Monday Morning Thoughts
So, after arriving home and going through some of the MHR comments, I've seen a lot of anti-Orton/pro-Tebow comments and posts. People are tired of dealing with the same monotonous style of football that Orton has brought for the past 3 years. Frankly, I don't disagree. I would like to see Tim Tebow play, as well.
But what I don't understand is why people assume that Tim Tebow would have won the game. The Titans defense is tough. There were a bunch of people calling for Tim Tebow during the game, including a bunch of Titans fans. I didn't understand it, after watching the game, live. There was nowhere to throw it. I think there were only two times where I saw a wide open man that Orton missed (one was the overthrown ball to Decker that was intercepted). I can't put all the blame on Orton for the loss, like some people can. It's unjustifiable, in my opinion. The Titans were keying run, all day, and the linebackers had great awareness to continue playing run or drop into coverage. The Broncos tried to get tricky with some delayed handoffs, but the Titans defense was just too good.
Would it have been different if Tebow were in there? Who can say? It's all hindsight and hypotheticals, at this point. I can't tell you how many times I've seen "Tebow would have us at 3-0 right now". Can someone really say that? As the Big Lebowski would say "Yeah, well...that's just like, uh, your opinion, man."
Bottom line, I would love to see Tim Tebow play. I was giddy like a schoolgirl when I saw Tim Tebow talking to coaches with his helmet on, while Kyle Orton lay motionless on the turf after the helmet to helmet hit he took in the first half. Not because of the injury, directly, but because I had visions of the Drew Bledsoe injury racing through my head with Tom Brady going on to superstar status. With that said, I don't think we can say for certain that Tim Tebow would have changed the outcome of the game in Tennessee. We lost 17-14 because of a gutsy 4th and goal call by John Fox that was, ultimately, unsuccessful. That's the end of it. Kyle Orton didn't get stuffed on a quarterback sneak or drop the ball while winding up for a downfield pass. I just can't build up the same amount of frustration that I did after the Oakland Raiders game.
So, once again, I would love to have seen Tebow play. I just want to make that perfectly clear since I have been called a Tebow-hater on Twitter for some things I said, last night.
He is exciting to watch. However, I think it's unfair for people to start playing the hypothetical game and say "Tebow would've" or "what if Tebow..." after the loss in Tennessee. It serves no purpose, in my opinion. Hindsight is 20/20. I can't tell you how many times I have used that phrase in the past 24 hours.
If the Broncos took a field goal instead of going for it....
If Orton's pass to Eric Decker is a few inches lower....
If Von Miller gets to Matt Hasselbeck a second earlier...
It just bothers me. We lost. John Fox played to win and the Broncos offense just couldn't punch it in. That's it.