Not long ago, Broncos Nation was thrilled about the arrival of Peyton Manning -- even many Tim Tebow fans who opposed his trade to the Jets. But five games into the regular season, much of that enthusiasm has ebbed, with large numbers of fans losing faith...including the sometimes irrational belief that Tebow inspired. And yesterday's 31-21 defeat to the Patriots -- the third nice-try loss in four games -- will likely accelerate the process, whether it should or not.
I'm not immune from this emotion. Yesterday, my family and I had a number of household errands we needed to run, so I chose to record the game on DVR -- something I probably wouldn't have done had I been in the grips of full-fledged Broncos fever. During the game, we stopped at our neighborhood King Soopers, which was far from deserted. Indeed, plenty of our fellow shoppers were rocking Broncos gear, including an asshole dad in a Von Miller jersey, who we witnessed snapping irrationally at his ten-to-twelve-year-old son, clad in Manning gear.
Uh-oh, I thought -- and sure enough, when I got home and turned on the TV, the score was the Patriots 31, the Broncos 14. And yet watching the game through the magic of time-shifting, I discovered the contest hadn't been the humiliating blowout that score implied. Manning missed a few passes, but for the most part, he threw the ball accurately, and Willis McGahee generally ran the ball effectively. Moreover, the Broncos defense had its productive moments, sacking Tom Brady three times and making a number of impressive stops.
But not nearly enough. The Broncos and the Patriots ran pretty much the same offense, with an emphasis on short possession passing balanced by an emphasis on the run. But the Pats simply did it better than Denver did, and with fewer mistakes. Stevan Ridley racked up more than 150 yards, a totally unacceptable total, and Brady proved that he can even make New England offensive coordinator/irritating weasel Josh McDaniels look good, consistently keeping the chains moving.
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In contrast, the Broncos made several mistakes that proved deadly -- like Demaryius Thomas fumbling on a potential touchdown for the second game in a row and McGahee dropping a fourth down pass guaranteed to have picked up a first down and then fumbling in the red zone to squelch the team's latest comeback effort. Not that Manning was without flaw. His own fumble turned into seven key Patriots points.
One juxtaposition summed up the day. On a third and four during the third quarter, Manning handed off to Lance Ball, who got nowhere. Result: punt. During the next series, the Patriots faced a third and seventeen, but Danny Woodhead managed to pick up nineteen on a run that shouldn't have fooled anyone with a horse on his helmet but somehow did. Result: The drive continued, resulting in a soul-depleting touchdown.
Had three or four plays gone differently, the Broncos might have found a way to win -- just as was the case in losses against Atlanta and Houston. But somehow, the very people certain Tebow would work a miracle last season don't seem to have the same confidence when it comes to an infinitely more gifted hurler. And that makes sense in a strange sort of way. Unless Denver can win some of these close match-ups, as opposed to losing honorably, fans are going to continue to drift away from their television on Sundays.
The Broncos can do it. But the time to start is now.
Here are a couple of clips from the game -- a brilliant one-handed catch by Demaryius Thomas, and Manning's fumble.
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More from our Sports archive: "Top ten things non-sports fans need to know about Peyton Manning."