It takes a lot to satisfy fans of the Denver Broncos. And the team's 24-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals yesterday didn't quite do it.
True, the contest's results got Denver back to .500, and the squad's 6-6 record and favorable schedule (its next four games are against the 49ers, Browns, Raiders and Chargers) make a playoff appearance more realistic than anyone would have predicted prior to the current winning streak, which has now hit three. Moreover, the tilt proved that this edition of the Broncos can win on the road in the eastern half of the country when kickoff comes in the early window of games, which hadn't been especially clear before yesterday.
But beating the Bengals proved a lot more difficult than the final score suggests, and not only because of an ultra-unfortunate injury to cornerback Chris Harris Jr., the best Broncos defender not named Von Miller. With Cincy's starting quarterback, Andy Dalton, out with a season-ending thumb injury, Jeff Driskel made his first NFL start under center for the Men in Stripes, and he looked predictably out of sync, seldom generating consistent offense. But Case Keenum, Denver's field general, simply didn't take advantage often enough.
Stats can lie, but not this time: Keenum's numbers — 12-for-21 and 151 yards — were positively Tebow-esque. Thanks to his ineptitude, Denver went into halftime clinging to a narrow 7-3 lead. And were it not for another brilliant effort by super-rookie Phillip Lindsay, who scored two touchdowns, including a thrilling 65-yard sprint to the end zone and several well-timed Cincinnati giveaways, the outcome could have been different.
Yes, the 49ers' starting QB is out, too, and the Raiders have had an embarrassing season (though they were competitive against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday). But the Browns aren't the pushovers they've been in years past, and the Chargers are genuinely formidable this time around. If Keenum plays like he did against the Bengals, the Broncos could lose to any of them.
This concern is evident in the following tweets, in which fans on Twitter express their fear that Denver will miss the playoffs but do just well enough for the Broncos not to fire head coach Vance Joseph, as plenty of folks have been encouraging team president John Elway to do for weeks. Consider the conversation here.