It’s happened to all of us. It looks like your team is playing like processed dung. You pop into the kitchen for a brewski and find the remains of last night’s chicken sitting next to it. The BBQ sauce you made for the last set of ribs still looks kind of good, smells fine, and pretty soon, you’re well into food prep. You walk back to the living room and suddenly the Hottentot Hasbeens have gained 10 points on the scoreboard. Ah, well, they’re still down 10 more. You’ll catch the highlights on whatever sports show is in your area.
The game drags on - looks like both teams fought out their energy in the first half, but the Hasbeens are at least trying. Suddenly, it looks like the Davenport Dilberts have been caught in press when their safeties are in Cover 2 - you just don’t do that. Your QB audibles, drops into the shotgun, drops back, loads up - and through the window comes a piercing scream from the area of the swing set. This isn’t your first game - it’s not your first kid, either, that that was the “I fell and sprained something scream (Note - it’s not your first kid-scream, either)”. You fly out the back door, with the ball still in the air. Worse still, it turns out that it’s probably just a minor sprain, but it’s a a full-bore bickering argument between the kids. By the time you straighten that out and clarify that pulling on people’s pants when they are hanging from the monkey bars really is unacceptable behavior, regardless of what a visiting male child he thinks that his uncle told him (make a note to talk to that perverted idiot) and get an ice bag on the knee, you suddenly recall that there’s a game on. Or was. Could be?
You fly into the family room, kid on one hip, ice pack held in place with that hand, brew in the other hand, since the chicken already went from warm to charcoal as you refereed the outdoor spat and as you turn up the sound you hear “in the most amazing finish this year, the Hottentot Hazzies have pulled off…” apparently, they pulled off the last few strands of your hair that the kids antics haven’t already taken. That was pretty much the Broncos in Tennessee on Sunday, for me. If you caught all that, you didn’t miss a thing in Memphis.
Well, perhaps one or two things. Do you like running games? Didn’t miss a thing. Tough, rugged defense? Well, sometimes - nothing consistent, except, of course, for while you were finding the icebag, soothing tattered feelings, handing out New Rules and realizing why your wife went to play Hearts over with the girls while the kids converged on the backyard, the dog and the swing set in no particular order. It was because you were so engrossed in the game that you grunted, “Sure, Hon” about 5 minutes before you realized what you’d said. After repeating silently eight words that mean ‘putz’ and calling yourself all of them, you turn on NFL Rewind and are reminded that no games are broadcast while any other games are on. You get up to twelve words for yourself, muttering them under your breath and collapse on the couch, looking for anyone’s halftime report while scanning the laptop for info.
If you like changing circumstances, turnovers at weird times (well, it’s not like they’re scheduled, really) and QBs who disdain games under 300 yards, you blew it. This one was strange, frustrating, remarkable and most of all - a ‘W’. And that’s the best, and only important part of all.
When did you ever hear this happening? Denver had 19 total yards rushing. The two Denver RBs, Laurence Maroney and Correll Buckhalter, combined for 48 yards receiving, which was six times what they achieved rushing the ball (8 yards on 17 carries). The middle of the OL was having jerseys made with ‘The Sieve’ on the front, and a picture of an auto wreck on the back. And Orton to everyone was the theme of the game.
Kyle? Another 300+ yard game, 341, to be specific, with just barely under 10 yards per completion and 2 TDs. Orton was 35 for 50, ran for 11 yards (more than the aforementioned RBs combined) and while he did have one INT, he refused to give up, never let the team quit and walked off with some very happy fellows. Orton was also sacked 6 times and I shudder to hear how often he was hurried, but he deserves the game ball on this one. David Bruton will hurt like heck next week - it was his WWE-like flying body-block that blasted the final ball free on the short, wind-driven kickoff fumble that Cassius Vaughn snared to kill the Titans’ final chances. The play followed a Kyle Orton connection with Correll Buckhalter that resulted in a TD with 1:33 left in the game.
This was a back-and-forth, strange, and unbalanced game from the Broncos. There will be dire comments on the play of Peyton Hillis in Cleveland and how Denver could let him go. I have always been a Hillis fan, and I’m thrilled for him that he’s found a home where he can be productive - Steve Nichols once mentioned that Hillis needs a zone-blocking scheme for him to play his best, and it looks like Steve is right. However - with Knowshon Moreno fighting a hamstring injury (and they can hold you back for months at times), Maroney and Buckhalter both turned more into receivers than running backs today. Andre Brown may get a shot next week at this rate - he can’t be worse (I hope). Tennessee looked to be the better team for much of the game, but once more, Orton had the stuff to force his team into the lead as the fourth quarter wound on downward, until Denver walked off the Titans’ field, clutching a huge win on the road. Special teams were uneven as heck, but the defense went after Tennessee in the last few minutes and it worked. Brian Dawkins talked after the game about Wink Martindale, unsung hero of the day, and his philosophy:
Coach Wink (Martindale) really harps on that part of the game: The four-minute offense and four-minute defense. That’s something he really believes in… He wants us to understand that this is a part of the game that nobody really talks about, but he really wants us to be a good defense in the last four minutes.
I distinctly recall last year from time to time listening to an almost endless babble along the lines of how Kyle Orton can’t play QB in the NFL, can’t throw properly, can’t avoid the rush and generally can’t whatever terms you want to put in front of that word. I’d like to admit that he’s not good at avoiding a heavy rush, and to also suggest that this was not one of the O-Line’s better days. Ryan Clady didn’t play well, the middle of the OL didn’t block well for the run but made up for that by letting Titans stroll by like Spartans heading for Marathon on pass plays and managing some untimely penalties. Chris Kuper didn’t have a great game, either. But I’ve got news for the naysayers - Orton is one heck of a QB and is leading the league in yards with 1,419. Last week against Indy, he threw for almost 500. But they can all do that, right? Right?
The entire issue with penalties is getting very old - I was willing to let some pass last year, since it was the first year in a new system, and plenty of different players struggled to get their timing down. Stanley Daniels and JD Walton I can understand, but it looks like Clady’s knee surgery may have affected his lateral quickness a lot more than the Broncos were expecting. That’s not all that uncommon, by the way - the word of thumb that I was taught is that you expect a knee to take a full year to heal and to let the adhesions, an unfortunate fact of life with surgeries, to let go and open up. It may take that long for Clady to be his old self, but he was clearly struggling. So was most of the OL. That was going to happen with that many rookies and injuries, and it has. You have to just hang in there through the learning process.
Orton managed to complete passes to seven different receivers, making the Broncos uninteresting for many fantasy players, or so it’s been said. Not yesterday - Brandon Lloyd hauled in 11 passes for 115 yards. Eddie Royal was right behind him with 8 receptions, 113 yards and a TD. What did Orton and Coach Josh McDaniels have to say?
“I don’t think we played our best football the whole time, but anytime you can give yourself a chance to win in the fourth quarter on the road against a good football team, we’ll take it,” Orton said. “When it got down to it, we made the plays.”
McDaniels said Orton was hit way more than he wanted.
“But he never lost his poise, continued to be confident on the sidelines, and made a lot of critical throws for us to change field position. He executed when we needed him to execute. I’m very pleased with the way he’s leading our football team and the way he’s playing.”
I’d bet that he is. He’s probably the best player on the team right now, and there are some players who are doing great things. The Broncos couldn’t run the ball, but won the time of possession by holding on for over 35 minutes. That’s amazing. The Titans are no easy team to deal with.
They’re going to need some more amazing - and a running game - when they go to Baltimore. But I have to say - Orton can’t carry the team by himself every week. No QB can. But for those who claimed that he couldn’t put a team on his back - I hope they were watching today. He just did, so let’s put that in the same dusty coverboard with him having a noodle arm, that he’s a QB who panics and him not having accuracy. Those have always been nonsense, but now we’ve seen it and it’s impossible to defend at this point. He’s a top-quality QB. Period. Let’s cheer and move on.
More strange news: Denver blitzed their outside linebackers over 50 times on Sunday, preventing the big runs to the outside that killed them against Jacksonville. New recruit Kevin Vickerson got some very good pushes - he was brought in almost as soon as he got off the plane in Denver, and ended up today with 3 solo tackles. The Denver front line dressed 8 players today and used them all. They had at least 7 on the field on at least one play. As I say - this was a very unusual game.
Sometimes ‘strange’ can be enjoyable. Today was more of a roller coaster ride that didn’t end until the final drive of Vince Young’s fell short on an incompletion. Brian Dawkins was tasked several times with covering the TEs - he didn’t do all that well, but Tennessee’s TEs are excellent. Dawk and DJ Williams each pulled down a sack, and Perrish Cox was second on the team with 5 tackles. Just in case you missed it, young Demaryius Thomas did some runbacks on kickoffs, which was yet another surprise in a day filled with them. He averaged 36 yards per return with a long one of 65 yards, something that Denver hasn’t seen much of in a while.
There will be much more, this week. This is the kind of game that had games within the game, and it’s going to be fun to dissect. But the initial hits are these:
1. It was a very strange game.
2. You take every win that you earn on the road.
3. Take a day or two to enjoy another 4th quarter comeback by Kyle Orton and the Broncos.
4. Congratulations to Jabar Gaffney, who broke 4,000 career receiving yards today. He needed 11 and got 51 - who says he’s not a good receiver?
5. Next, take a deep breath. Baltimore beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh, and Denver has to go after them on the road. It won’t get easier this week.
But after watching yesterday, one goal that I wanted to see from Denver has clearly come to fruition. I wanted to see a team that was competitive every week. And this week, I did. It was great.