I’m a pretty calm guy, which is a development that’s taken place in my 30s. As a kid, I had an extremely bad temper, and even into my 20s, it persisted to some degree, and I was prone to outbursts, and door slamming, and the like. Around the time I got separated and divorced in 2007 and 2008, maybe somewhat as a byproduct of the whole failed marriage experience, I started to evolve into a more levelheaded person, and it’s a change I’m very pleased with.
In 2008, I also started writing about football at MHR, mostly because I had a lot of time on my hands. When I joined the staff, there were only four people on the masthead. Two of their then-writers are kind of emotional guys, given to rants and kneejerk reactions. The other two stayed more separated from what happened in the last game, or the least series, and didn’t really come from the place that a fan came from.
In fitting into that mix, one of the directions my writing took is that I’ve always tried to be dispassionate, and not let how I feel affect what I think, and what I say. I make a lot of real-time statements and observations, but they’re never emotional. You’d never see me suggest that Champ Bailey needs to retire, because he had one bad game, as a commenter or two did Saturday. There are times, when all hell breaks loose, when a voice of reason is needed, and I decided to be that guy.
Now, I’m at a site where all of us are pretty levelheaded, and I think the content over the last couple days has reflected that. What I propose to do today, though, is to reflect on the whole season, and place Saturday’s game in an appropriate context to the whole body of work. I think it’s time to let Saturday go, and to consider the recent past and the future.
Being a Broncos fan this season has been terrific. For four preseason games, 16 regular season ones, and another in the playoffs, we got to watch a team that consistently played hard, and was able to compete with every team it went up against. Comparing 2012 to 2011 was like the difference between 1996 and 1995, which were the first and second years of the Mike Shanahan regime.
The 2012 Broncos went from 8-8 to 13-3, just like they did in 1996. They lost at home in the divisional playoffs to a far inferior team, as happened 16 years ago. Even Saturday’s game felt like the debacle against the Jagwads, which happened while I unfortunately lived in Jacksonville. Every missed opportunity, every awful penalty, and every mistake in coverage made it feel like an underdog’s game. I must have said that five times in our game chat.
The 1996 Broncos could have won the Super Bowl, but they didn’t. Really, it would have been rare for a team to go from several years in the wilderness to winning it all, without having to lose in the postseason in order to learn how to win. The 1999 Rams hadn’t been to the playoffs in a decade, and the 2001 Patriots and 2009 Saints hadn’t been there in three years. Every other team that’s won the Super Bowl in the past 30 years has been a playoff tested group that lost before it won.
I know what some of you are thinking – But wait! The Broncos made the playoffs last year! They did, because they played in a weak division. Then they stole a game at home against a declining and injury-ravaged Steelers team. Then they promptly got embarrassed by the Patriots, and exposed for the complete pretender that the stats showed them to be.
The 2011 Broncos team was very, very different from the 2012 Broncos team, and not just because of the QB change. There were changes in both offensive and defensive schemes, and some new players came in to take on key roles. You had rookies like Derek Wolfe, Ronnie Hillman, and Omar Bolden, and veterans like Mike Adams, Justin Bannan, Keith Brooking, and Jim Leonhard filling important holes that had existed on the under-talented 2011 version of the team.
On top of that, you had young veterans like Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Knowshon Moreno, Robert Ayers, Wesley Woodyard, Orlando Franklin, Zane Beadles, J.D. Walton, Chris Harris, and Rahim Moore improving greatly over what they’d previously shown. This is what happens in a successful rebuilding process- the team drafts the right guys, and they grow up to be key contributors.
A great deal of organizational progress was made in 2012, and the framework for what the Broncos should be for the next 3-4 years was established. There’s tremendous value in what happened throughout the season, and the benefits of this progress are going to be felt for the next few years, as the Broncos exist as a contender hitting its prime.
There’s even value in losing a playoff game, if the players and coaches can channel the disappointment they feel to improving for next season, and more seasons to come. Guys like Thomas and Decker and Moore, who came up small Saturday, can learn from the experience, and put in the work necessary to improve, and come up big the next time they have a chance.
John Fox could reflect on the mistakes he made, and take the criticism he’s receiving to heart, and come out a better coach on the other side. I doubt that will happen, as he’s already being dismissive of the criticism, but I have some faith that John Elway is smart enough to realize where Fox fell short, and to counsel his subordinate to rethink a few things.
Each of the last two divisional playoff losses have occurred on Saturdays when I was planning to go out to celebrate my girlfriend’s birthday, which is actually today.
How I feel today, two days after the loss, is a lot better than how I felt 52 Mondays ago. That may be counterintuitive, because last year, the Broncos were playing with house money, and this year, they were legitimate contenders, and it feels like a wasted opportunity, but think about it in terms of probability.
Prior to the weekend’s games, the guys at numberFire had the Broncos as the favorites to the win the Super Bowl. Do you know what their probability to do so was? It was only 23.6%. Anything can happen in one game, and sometimes, a lot of s$#% happens. Even as the favorite, it was always a lot more likely that the Broncos wouldn’t win the Super Bowl than it was that they would.
Because of that, we all should have been pretty prepared for the almost 4-to-1 likelihood that our hopes weren’t going to come through. Me personally, I’d rather lose in the divisional round, than in the championship round, and certainly in the Super Bowl. The further you go to lose, the more it hurts. We know that better than most, as Broncos fans. I know a ton of Browns fans who don’t realize losing a Super Bowl is way, way worse than losing an AFC Championship game, but it is.
Pragmatically, too, I’d rather pick 28th in the draft than 29th, 30th, or 31st, if I don’t get to see my team hoist the Lombardi Trophy. It probably doesn’t make a huge difference in the quality of players you get to pick, but higher is better, at least at some level.
A framework is in place for future Broncos success, and they’re only going to get more proficient at executing their schemes, on both sides of the ball. They have some interesting personnel decisions coming up, and we’re going to cover that better than any other site, but for now, let’s try to snap out of the gloomy feelings, and see the whole season for the positive that it was. The 1997 Broncos came back ready to handle their business after the Jagwad disappointment, and we can only hope that the 2013 Broncos follow that lead.