After the Broncos' 28-16 loss to the Colts on Sunday, coach Josh McDaniels shrugged off suggestions that the defeat should be viewed more positively than most.
"When you lose, you lose," he said. "There's no moral victories in this league."
I understand what he means -- and, frankly, that's the kind of thing we want a coach to say. It's a helluva lot better than listening to post-game interviews this past season with CU's Dan Hawkins, who seemed to excuse each L by portraying pummelings as a great way to build character. But if McDaniels can't say it, we can: The game actually was a moral victory, as well as something to build on as the season reaches crunch-or-get-crunched time.
The way things started out, I initially thought garbage time would begin in the second quarter, with the Broncos behind 21-zip despite Kyle Orton completing around 90 percent of the passes he threw. Peyton Manning and company dismantled the defense so methodically that they almost seemed bored.
But a funny thing happened en route to what had seemed like a guaranteed blowout. The defense stiffened, causing Manning to make far more mistakes than usual, and the offense had its moments thanks mostly to Brandon Marshall, who reiterated the reasons we wrote in October that he deserves to get paid by catching an NFL record 21 catches in a single game.
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Yeah, I know: The Broncos didn't make the most of their opportunities. Note that fifteen-yard penalty for helmet removal near the end of the first half, followed by an idiotic fourth down call -- a doomed plunge by Knowhon Moreno, who'd begun limping two plays prior. A missed field goal in the second half didn't help, either, and Mike Nolan's decision to blitz Manning throughout the Colts' final drive was totally inexplicable. The tactic opened up parts of the field that the secondary had sealed off after that horrendous start, giving the Colts' offense life that had been seemingly snuffed out earlier. Game over.
And yet, the Broncos made the Colts sweat in a big way. They have a history of folding in Indy, but anyone who expected a repeat of the 32-3 loss to San Diego a few weeks back was pleasantly surprised -- make that "pleasantly shocked." This doesn't look like the squad that executed an epic collapse last season to miss the playoffs. Instead, the Broncos seem focused and fully capable of winning at least two of the last three games, against Kansas City and next week's opponent, Oakland -- who may have JaMarcus Russell back under center.