Welcome to the Denver Broncos blog. As this is my first entry, I feel an obligation to look back on the rollercoaster ride over the past nine months.
There was the lackluster 1-4 start to the 2011 season. The Broncos couldn’t get over the proverbial hump. Kyle Orton’s veteran savvy, leadership, and efficiency from 2010 looked to be a thing of the past. In Week 5 against San Diego, first year head coach John Fox made the season-changing decision to insert back-up quarterback, Tim Tebow – perhaps you’ve heard of him. The comeback fell a few points short, but the collective fire of the team had been stoked.
The Broncos’ bye during Week 6 came at an opportune time, allowing the coaching staff to install Tebow as the starting QB. Week 7 versus the Miami Dolphins was a microcosm for the remainder of the 2011 season. The first 54 minutes felt like the Red Rocks Community College football team put on the pads on offense – 154 total yards on offense, including only 13 passing yards. Fox had to be regretting his decision to change quarterbacks…that is, until lightning struck. Down 15-0 with just over five minutes remaining, the Broncos no huddle offense went on an 80 yard TD march to make it a one-score contest. A mishandled onside kick allowed Virgil Green to recover and give Tebow one more chance. 2 minutes, 29 seconds later, Daniel Fells was on the receiving end of a short TD toss from Tebow to pull Denver within two points, 15-13. Tebow bullied his way into the endzone on the two-point conversion to send the game to overtime. D.J. Williams’ sack and forced fumble of Matt Moore put Matt Prater in position to win the game with a long field goal attempt. Prater’s 52-yarder gave Denver its only lead…as the final whistle blew.
In one short week, the offense had been transformed. The Broncos’ defense unknowingly had given the coaching staff a forecast of the remainder of the season: keep games close and see which movie script the offense could dust off for its fourth quarter heroics. What did we see in Bronco games this season? A 95-yard TD drive after 8 consecutive punts, multiple game tying field goals in regulation, multiple game winning field goals in overtime, and two total pass completions in a game – TWO!!! And, these were games that Denver actually won!?
The new college-style offensive philosophy using the option and formations that more closely resembled something seen in the Barry Switzer Oklahoma Sooners’ heyday. To top it off, a mobile, tough-nosed QB with less than pinpoint precision and an oft-criticized passing motion defied the odds in the NFL. No one imagined that any team could produce yards, points, or wins with this offense. While the yards and points were still tough to come by, Denver was racking up the victories. Aside from one clunker of a game against the Lions, Denver surged to win seven of eight to push their record to an astounding 8-5 record with a comfortable lead in the AFC West – a far cry from that terrible 1-4 start.
I think that many Coloradans had a newfound relationship with God due to what was perceived to be Tim Tebow’s weekly miracles. Three late season losses left Denver with an 8-8 mark entering their home playoff contest versus the heavily favored Pittsburgh Steelers. Perhaps the divine intervention cast over the Centennial State had run its course. Surely, their more complete opponent would punch their ticket into the Divisional Playoff round and send the Broncos to the links, right?
The first few drives looked like more of the same from both sides of the ball. The Broncos sputtered on offense, while the defense featured the ‘bend but don’t break’ approach. Then…it happened AGAIN, although a no huddle offense wasn’t required, nor was a fourth quarter comeback. Tebow took advantage of the one thing that Pittsburgh did not account for – the ability to complete the deep pass. Earlier in the week, John Elway advised his quarterback to “pull the trigger.” That he did, torching Steelers’ stalwart cornerback, Ike Taylor (among others) early and often. Despite the Broncos jumping out to a 14-point lead, the Steelers clawed their way back into the game using a surprisingly effective blend of pass and run. Pittsburgh tied the game with under four minutes remaining. Each team appeared tentative down the stretch, afraid to make the pivotal mistake. So, the game headed for the overtime stanza. Pittsburgh clearly had the momentum, but Denver won the toss and elected to receive. As was often seen in the rarified air at Invesco in 2011, the kickoff resulted in a touchback. On the first play from scrimmage, the Steelers showed a tight press coverage. Tebow read blitz from safety Ryan Mundy and hit Demaryius Thomas perfectly in stride on a medium crossing pattern with Taylor one step behind. Thomas chose the perfect instant to stiff-arm Taylor near midfield and galloped past Taylor and Mundy for an improbable 80-yard touchdown reception to advance Denver to the AFC Divisional round in Foxborough against the Patriots. The crowd’s reaction may not have registered on the Richter scale, but the scene was absolute bedlam. The ending was so abrupt, so final. 11 seconds…that’s all it took. The new playoff overtime rules didn’t even get a chance. And, the Broncos took their show on the road.
The next week? Well…the Patriots were…the Patriots. Their quick strike passing game was in full effect as Tom Brady and company disposed of Denver 45-10. Brady tossed a paltry six touchdowns and 363 yards as he dismantled the Broncos’ defense. The end of the season had come, but not after serious fireworks for three straight months.
Let’s fast forward two months when a certain first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback was released after 14 years with a certain team in the heartland of America. Executive Vice President of Football Operations, John Elway, surely noticed that Peyton Manning was available on the free agent market. There were significant concerns surrounding Manning, considering the durable playcaller missed the entire 2011 season following his second neck surgery. The conundrum facing Denver’s front office was whether the magical season of Tebow could become a career filled with Super Bowls…or should an investment be made in a soon-to-be 36-year old true quarterback coming off a series of cervical surgeries. Elway, one of the fiercest competitors in recent history, made no secrets that he preferred a precision passer. After seeing Manning work out and watching other potential free agent suitors fall by the wayside, Denver signed their new old man to a five year, $96 million contract.
The city had fallen to one knee tebowing on the ground where Tim Tebow walked. Now, he was pushed aside for the new sheriff in town. Two days after seeing Peyton Manning don the orange #18, Tebow was dealt to the New York Jets for a 4th and 6th round pick. And just like that, the Tim Tebow chapter as a Bronco had concluded. It was brief, but it provided a great deal of excitement. A new era begins this fall with even higher expectations. Only time will tell if the offensive overhaul will result in more victories, playoff appearance, or Super Bowls.
The next article will discuss the 2012 Broncos draft choices.
About the Author
Written by Rob Stroup
I grew up in western Pennsylvania, so I have followed the Pittsburgh sports teams (Steelers, Penguins, Pirates) since the womb. It has become a tradition to make the yearly trek to a Steelers and Penguins game each year despite the distance. I hope to make writing a profession because I thoroughly enjoy attempting to paint a picture with words.