It wasn't always like this. Going back one calendar year, the Broncos were breaking record after record after record en route to electrifying wins. They set an NFL record for points scored, along the way setting several single season marks that will be difficult to eclipse.
You see that 2013 offense never struggled. Despite taking a 17-14 deficit into halftime on opening day, a slim 17-16 lead into the 4th quarter a week later, the high octane Broncos offense found another gear and finished in the 40's on both occasions.
This year you can barely count on them reaching the 30-point mark against the likes of Kansas City or Buffalo.
The biggest reason why?
Peyton Manning is broken.
It must be. The force is no longer strong in this one. Despite throwing for three or more touchdown passes in eight of thirteen games this season, Broncos fans yearn for the day when Manning was routinely lighting up the record books with touchdown after touchdown.
Nevermind the fact that over 70% of Manning's touchdown passes came in the redzone. You know, the same redzone where CJ Anderson set a career record for rushing touchdowns with 3 yesterday?
Nevermind the fact that the Broncos cruised to a home victory after completely dominated most of the game on defense while putting up the most points in Peyton Manning's career when he posted a game where he threw no touchdowns and two picks.
Manning sucked, and garbage time Orton who's favorite whipping boy was rookie Bradley Roby outplayed him.
The last time a Peyton Manning led team posted a victory when he threw no touchdowns and multiple interceptions came way back in November of 2008. That Colts team managed to beat the Cleveland Browns 10-6. This is the first time in his tenure as a Bronco where Manning failed to throw a touchdown pass. It happened 30 times in Peyton's tenure as a Colt and accounts for 10.8% of his regular season/post season game logs.
Never has a Peyton Manning led offense managed to score 24 points or more in a game when he has had such limited output.
Reality Check II
Our passing game under Peyton Manning is predicated upon rhythm. He's a rhythm passer. You're going to sacrifice some of that in order to have a running game.
Why the balance though? Because a month ago this team rolled into St. Louis and put up all of 7 points on a day in which Manning threw the ball 50 times and the running backs rushed 9 times. There was no reason to respect the run because the Broncos did not have it in them. This meant relentless pressure, several sacks, and turnovers off poor decisions. It was precisely the sort of game that sent the Broncos packing for home after an embarrassing Super Bowl Loss last February.
Reality Check III
In the three weeks that the Manning passing game has supposedly taken a nosedive, the Broncos learned how to win games playing smashmouth ball control football with the running game while at the same time playing an aggressive style smothering defense that has held the last two opponents to exactly 13 points heading into the 4th quarter. In both games the offense got off to a double digit lead and the opponent was forced to abandon their game plan.
Consider the Broncos capable of utilizing all sides of the force.
If you're angry because the Broncos struggled in the redzone a week ago en route to a double digit win in frigid conditions on the road against a divisional opponent....consider the fact that they went to war without their sharpest redzone weapon in Julius Thomas.
If you're angry because the Broncos only beat Kyle Orton by 7 at home, send your hate mail to Jack Del Rio who once again softened up in the 4th quarter with a three score lead. While you're at it ask him why he failed to give Bradley Roby help after the rookie became Orton's favorite whipping boy.
If you're angry because Peyton Manning threw a couple of interceptions on low percentage high risk-high-reward deep balls, consider the fact that the first ball traveled all of 48 yards in the air which is about the limit of Manning's physical capabilities. And when that fact hits you like a ton of bricks, remember that Manning has carved up defenses his entire career without the benefit of an atomic long ball.
But if you're angry because the Star War numbers that have marked Manning's tenure here as a Bronco have disappeared the last couple of weeks, remember that the same approach to the game has gotten them nowhere against tougher more physical foes time and again. Do that and perhaps 43-8 takes on a meaning much larger than just an embarrassment on the biggest stage.
It's fine to analyze and pick apart a game identifying the weak points. But realize one thing. The Broncos have won three straight after being gut checked by a physical opponent. They let that beatdown transform them into the same kind of bully we all dread seeing on the schedule. It's not quite perfect yet but the hard work and heavy lifting have already been done.
This is a team that is now capable of winning in different ways. It no longer needs a herculean effort from it's best player in order to notch a W in the win column. All it takes is a pound of flesh and the determination to follow through on a physical game plan when it is called for.
For months we've all been clamoring for a smash-mouth running game and a dominant defense. Now we have it and some would like to trade it all back for what we had before. This is what winning looks like when you run the ball and play stout defense. You're not always going to see a 300 yard game or multiple touchdown passes. But you will see a balanced effort and no one player will be responsible for the outcome of the game.
Football is a team sport. It's high time Broncos fans embraced that.
In his first Super Bowl victory John Elway completed 54.5% of his passes for 123 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception.
You know what people remember? The helicopter. Elway leaping up and down on the sideline in triumph as time expired on Green Bay's last ditch effort.
People remember we won our first world championship and that Elway did his part, ugly numbers and all.
Stop looking for ways to undermine a victory.
Embrace the fact that Manning alone cannot win a championship and accept the fact that we don't always need him to play lights out in order to win a game. A year ago that was not the case.