Better late than never. That was the theme for much of last season in Denver, but one that didn't figure to carry over to 2012.
Yet, it took quite a while (about twenty minutes' worth of game clock) before John Fox and Mike McCoy got the memo.
You know, the one that says Peyton MF Manning is now their starting quarterback.
We spent much of the past several months laughing off quotes from Fox and McCoy that suggested the 2012 Broncos offense would be a blend of those run by the Manning-led Colts and the sleep-inducing run-heavy affairs the two coaches grew fond of when their starting QBs were named Tebow, Delhomme, Clausen, and Peete.
There was talk about traditional two-back sets with the non-weaponized Gronk seeing plenty of snaps, of a true run/pass balance (salting away the clock late doesn't count here), and of Fox and McCoy teaching Peyton a few things.
Really, it all sounded like a Wile E. Coyote-quality smokescreen. These coaches weren't going to try to reinvent a perfect wheel, were they?
After all, the beauty of signing Manning is that he is essentially a one-man offense. Less-talented players suddenly appear competent or better, and how did that pass protection look last night? If you're keeping track, Peyton was sacked twice, and neither one appeared to be the fault of the front five.
Plus, Manning runs a simple offense, in that he sticks to a couple handfuls of pass plays, and even fewer running plays. (Take a look at the Bucky Brooks piece we linked to yesterday. Does that Jailbreak screen look familiar?
He has devastated and confounded defenses for years with his no-huddle approach, because he knows what defenses are up to when he approaches the line, and he can always get his guys into a better call. Whatever your defensive call, Peyton makes you wrong.
Yet, there we all were last night, watching the future HOFer hand the ball off on five consecutive first downs to start the game, and then twice from within the shadow of the team's own goalposts.
Huddle up, hand it off.
Truly, it felt like a sick practical joke at the expense of Broncos Country and football geeks everywhere.
Nineteen minutes and fifty seconds into a matchup featuring two of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, the Broncos trailed the Steelers 3-0 in a snoozefest.
Thankfully, and not soon enough, Fox and McCoy awoke from their slumber following Pittsburgh's field goal, and they unleashed their 96-million-dollar man.
The no-huddle offense we'd been anticipating all along was finally being put to use, and the results were stunning. Denver would have the ball six times from that point on: three possessions produced 80-yard touchdown drives, another ended with a field goal, and the remaining two were half- and game-ending kneeldowns.
Final score? 31-19 Broncos, despite Denver possessing the ball for just 24:55 to Pittsburgh's 35:05.
The offense did exhibit some growing pains, in the form of two ilegal formation penalties, and a stunning delay of game by Manning which followed a timeout and preceded Denver's lone field goal.
Denver's run defense was exceptional, with the Steelers' longest run of the night an 11-yarder by Jonathan Dwyer that was shortened by a Mike Wallace holding penalty.
Third down was something of a problem, to put it mildly, with Ben Roethlistberger converting 10 of his first 11 third-down throws. Six of them were on plays requiring at least seven yards to gain. Jack Del Rio dialed up the pressure late, and his defense notched four of its five sacks in the second half, and three of them on the Steelers' final possession.
Tracy Porter, the latest player faced with the difficult task of playing opposite Champ Bailey, had a remarkable Denver debut. Were it not for the return of a certain QB, the talk would be all about Porter and his game-clinching pick-six, his five (!!FIVE!!) defensed passes, and eight tackles (one for a loss).
Mike Adams was another veteran addition who made a big impact, defensing three passes, including one would-be touchdown, and shutting down TE Heath Miller later on when asked to.
Von Miller is not new, but he was a terror, with his two late sacks capping off what had already been a destructive night (four tackles for loss, three hits on Big Ben).
But despite all of these stellar individual performances (did we mention that Manning's 19-of-26 netted a better completion percentage than Tim Tebow posted in any game last year?), the game was not decided until Porter's biggest play.
Thanks to Roethlisberger's insane third-down performance, the question for much of the night was whether Manning would have enough possessions to win the game. And the overhanging story was that the conservatism of Fox and McCoy had served to waste the team's first three possessions by keeping the reins on a player who needs no such coddling.
Fortunately, Manning's greatness is enough to overcome mistakes by players and coaches alike. Last night, he picked up his coaches; eventually, we'll see him do the same for his teammates. That is, as long as the coaches allow him the freedom to do what he does best: run his offense, and throw the damn ball.
Let's just hope Fox and McCoy got the message.