The morning after experiencing a disappointing, head-scratching week 1 loss to the Geno Smith-led Seattle Seahawks, many residents of Broncos Country may have woke up feeling not much better than they did at the final horn the previous night.
The self-inflicted penalties, poor preparedness, sloppy defense, and inexplicable game management and play calling from the sidelines has the fan base rightfully frustrated.
Despite the abundance of errors committed by the Denver Broncos, it is important to remember that this is the first week of a new era, and a struggle out of the gate shouldn’t have been completely unexpected. That isn’t to say a loss should have been expected, or accepted, but it shouldn’t completely torpedo any fan’s confidence, either.
The 2022 Broncos are not unique in being a team entering a season with the highest of expectations only to have them immediately watered down. This past weekend (and Thursday) alone, the Bengals, Rams, Packers, and Cowboys (even with Dak Prescott in the lineup), all teams with postseason aspirations, had debuts in which they played like the West Canaan Coyotes after a night of drinking.
Those teams’ paths, like the Broncos, are yet to be determined, but we do know from recent history that new-look teams who open the season flat finish far closer to their preseason expectations.
Golden boy Tom Brady brought along with him Rob Gronkowski, LeSean McCoy, Leonard Fournette, and Antonio Brown (mid-season) to the Tampa Bay Bucs in 2020 with expectations through the roof. In their week 1 matchup with the New Orleans Saints, Brady threw two picks and finished with a QBR of 33.1 while Fournette, Gronkowski, and McCoy combined for 18 yards on eight touches. That team would ultimately find their chemistry and finish the season as Super Bowl champs.
An example closer to home would be the 2012 Broncos. Entering John Fox’s second season, the Tim Tebow era was over while the highly anticipated Peyton Manning era was set to commence. The four-time MVP was immediately expected to elevate the young, talented roster to a Super Bowl contender, but his era, too, got off to a rocky start.
The Broncos did win their opener that year over the Pittsburgh Steelers at home, but it bears mentioning that the team played from behind nearly the entire game up and didn’t take control until there were less than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. The next two games, Denver was not so fortunate.
The team’s week two matchup against the Atlanta Falcons on the road saw the Broncos entered the fourth quarter down 27-7 and 14 fourth-quarter points wouldn’t be enough to offset three Manning interceptions to make a comeback.
The third game, a home matchup vs. the Houston Texans, didn’t feature much improvement. Down 31-11 with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Broncos again, as they did the week prior, rallied for 14 fourth-quarter points, but again, it would not be enough.
10 years later, fans should remember how that season ended. While ultimately a disappointing playoff loss, the team would follow up that 1-2 start by winning 12 of the next 13 and establishing themselves as true contenders in future years.
Now, admittedly, those are two fairly extreme examples, as Brady and Manning were the two best players in the game, and losing to the likes of Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and even Matt Schaub is not the same as losing to Geno Smith.
The point of all this is to say that teams with high expectations and potential do not let a week 1 slip up control their season narrative.
Yes, the loss still stings, and no Ted Lasso “be a goldfish” speech is going to make that better, but to take something positive away from this, remember this isn’t like the Broncos losses we’ve grown accustomed to.
In years prior, the Broncos were just the worse team. This past Monday, that wasn’t the case. Even with all the mistakes, all the sloppiness, all the questionable decisions, the team nearly doubled the total offense of their opponent and put themselves in position multiple times to take over with four red zone possessions to Seattle’s two.
It’s just about finishing. The talent is there on both sides of the ball. Russell Wilson showed he is still an elite QB with 340 yards and quick decision making. Jerry Jeudy and Javonte Williams showed that they can be among the best young offensive playmakers in the league, and even Andrew Beck looked like a difference maker.
The loss still is a tough one to stomach and infuriating thinking back to certain moments, but while the wind has been knocked from the sails a good bit, the boat is still upright and moving forward. A bounce back win in convincing fashion over the Texans this weekend would be a good way to stabilize and get back on the right path.