To take our minds off a disappointing loss, I thought I’d share a piece looking back at a moment in recent Broncos history, that many fans seem to have already forgotten, October 2014. I’m using IAOFM as a bit of a time machine, and will link to their content throughout the article. (Many thanks to them for not only writing this content, but continuing to leave it up).
Setting the stage:
The Broncos were only 8 months removed from the disappointing end to the 2013 season. The offense that had set records for most points and yards in a season had remained largely intact, losing only Knowshon Moreno, Eric Decker, and Zane Beadles, and filling those holes with Emmanuel Sanders and a returning Ryan Clady. The defense that despite some overachieving performances had been called soft after the super bowl, had been retooled with additions of Bradley Roby, TJ Ward, Aqib Talib and Demarcus Ware.
The Broncos started the season well, opening 2 and 1 with wins against the Colts and Chiefs and a hard fought OT loss on the road against the Seahawks (who were in the midst of a 28-2 stretch at home.) JT was off to a hot start with 5 TD catches in 3 games.
Elsewhere, the Patriots started the season 2-2 and after getting blown out by the Chiefs, people overreacted by stating the Patriots and Tom Brady were finished.
In the first game after the Broncos bye, the 3-0 Cardinals rolled into town ranked 4th in the ESPN Power Rankings. The Broncos decimated them 41 to 20, and outgained the Cards 568 to 215. Peyton threw for a career high 479 yards and 4 TDs against a supposed strong defense. JT had 2 TDs to move his total to 7 through 4 games, and DT had 2 TDs and a franchise record 226 yards, good enough for AFC POW honors.
After two 1st quarter FG drives, the Broncos D only allowed one 1st downs the rest of the game. Removing an 81 yard TD pass on a broken coverage, the Broncos only allowed 19 yards on 12 drives. Simply dominating.
Highlights from TJ’s Gut Reaction:
- Congrats to Peyton Manning for eclipsing 500 TD passes in a career. It’s almost impossible to believe. Imagine throwing 31 touchdowns a year (something John Elway never did) for 16 straight years.
- It took Danny Trevathan exactly three plays to get a nice solo stop. The defense is better when he’s around. Trevathan led the team in tackles, which is what he was doing before he got injured. Now, let’s avoid injury again and we’ve got a defense that probably competes with anyone in the league. (Trevethan was injured the following week on the 2nd play of the game, and was essentially lost for the year.)
- Emmanuel Sanders is setting himself up for a career year. He’s quick as a two-year old on a sugar binge. That’s why a Pro Bowl cornerback like Patrick Peterson has to hold.
- Like the one-night stand that won’t stop calling you, Von Miller gets more disruptive each and every day.
- If it’s in the zip code, there is a good chance Julius Thomas catches it.
The Bronco entered the game against the struggling Jets team as 9.5 point road favorites. The Broncos didn’t play a complete game, but still won 31-17, and the result never appeared to be in doubt after the first quarter. As TJ said, “You’ll never mistake this game for one of Manning’s best (he floated a lot of balls), but in the end, he still managed three touchdowns and the win.”
Julius Thomas caught 2 more TD passes, bringing his total to a ridiculous 9 through 5 games. One third of the way through the season, and he was on pace for 29 TDs, which would have shattered Moss’s record of 23 receiving TDs. As he only needed 8 TDs in 11 games, it looked almost certain that he would break Gronk’s TE record of 17. Despite the early bye meaning the Broncos had played 1 less game than most teams, JT had more TD passes than 15 NFL teams.
As Julius Thomas said, “It’s so fucking easy.”
Highlights from the Gut Reaction:
- The Broncos defense made the Jets running game look junior varsity. Having averaged 139.2 yards in their first five games, the Jets totaled just 31 today. That’s not exactly FedEx Ground.
- It’s great to see Julius Thomas pulverize man coverage. It’s even better to see him continue to improve in finding the spaces in zone coverage.
- Is it just me, or does Chris Harris look like one of the best corners in the game right now?
- Derek Wolfe is officially back. I’m not sure how many tackles he ended the game with, but he was slicing through offensive linemen like a Slap Chop
After this game, Doug published a Lard titled, Broncos #1 among sportswriters, bandwagoners, and computers. The Broncos were #1 in fan’s Harris Poll, the AP poll, the ESPN power rankings, AFAs efficiency ratings, PFR’s SRS, and FO’s DVOA. Little did we know, things were only just beginning.
The schedule appeared tough with the 4-2 49ers (ranked 7th in the ESPN power rankings), the 5-1 Chargers (ranked 2nd in the ESPN power rankings), and the rising 4-2 Patriots.
The mediocre win against the Jets also suddenly didn’t look so bad after the Jets nearly upset the Patriots the following week.
The Broncs played the 49ers on Sunday Night. The Broncos won 42-17, with Manning going an uber efficient 22/26 for 4 TDs in 3 quarters, breaking Brett Favre’s TD record in the process. This game was more dominant than a 25 point margin would indicate, as the Broncos scored TDs on 6 of their 8 possessions before putting Brock and other backups in at the start of the 4th with the score 42-10.
Highlights from TJ’s Gut Reaction:
- Is there any reason to think Manning can’t throw another 100 touchdowns as a Bronco? No. No there is not.
- Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are simply impossible for offensive linemen to catch. Chasing them all game is probably a lot like running a marathon through the streets of San Francisco.
- Emmanuel Sanders is such a nice upgrade over Eric Decker. Looking back, I should have never doubted John Elway.
- If Chris Harris isn’t the best corner in the league right now, he’s got dibs on the spot.
Here’s a collection of things said after Peyton broke the record, pretty much universally positive and talking about how he’ll probably play another 3 years and throw 100 more. Terms like “essentially perfect”, and “better than ever”, and “a long way from the end”, were used. There was also the discussion about how number of championships should fit into the discussion. Doug put it pretty well:
“Of course, the trolls of the sports writing world see this as an opportunity to remind everyone that Peyton has won but one SB title. Look, it’s fine if folks want to say Joe Montana and Tom Brady are two of the very best, and that their ringz confirm that claim.
The problem, of course, is everything else that comes along with that.
Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning are equal to John Elway, and those three are better than Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, who are mere equals of Brad Johnson, Jeff Hofstetler, and yes, Trent Dilfer.
All of those guys are better than Dan Marino and Jim Kelly, and all, except for Montana, pale in comparison to Terry Bradshaw.
It’s flat-out ridiculous.”
More interestingly, Kils answers a question about Brock Osweiler’s future, and Doug comments:
When he hits free agency in March 2016, he’ll be just 25 years old, and any real NFL experience will have only followed a potential injury to Peyton. It’s conceivable he’ll have thrown just 40 or 50 passes by then, and with a sample that teeny, there will be no conclusions to be drawn.… No other team is going to hand him a starting job. And anyone who gives him a chance to compete for one, frankly, would have to have a pretty rough QB situation…Who knows, maybe Peyton will sign a three-year deal after his current one is over, and this is all moot.
Additionally, the Broncos remained #1 in every advanced statistical rating system, and improved their margin in most. Each site wrote about the Broncos dominance:
Sterling Xie, Advanced Football Analytics:
It’s been a while since the NFL has seen a truly legendary team exhibit all-around dominance. It’s a little too early to declare any team as likely to fulfill that distinction, but apart from a three-quarter blip at CenturyLink Field, the Denver Broncos might be one of the best teams in recent NFL history…Their 0.68 Gross Winning Percentage, a measure of their true long-term winning percentage, is absurd. The next highest mark is 0.61—for reference, the second-place team is as close to the 12th-place team as it is to the Broncos…If Denver can keep this pace up, they might begin to resemble a team many consider the most dominant in recent history, the 2007 Patriots.
Aaron Schatz, Football Outsiders:
As a result, the Broncos are now living in “best team in DVOA history” territory. The Broncos are now the sixth-best team in DVOA ever measured through Week 7, and the second-best team this century, trailing only the 2007 Patriots…The Broncos defense has now been ranked No. 2 in DVOA for three straight weeks. This puts the Broncos into an interesting historical group: teams that ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in both offensive and defensive DVOA at the same time. The Broncos are only the sixth team since 1989 to rank in the top two for both offense and defense after Week 5. No team had ever accomplished this for three straight weeks after September.
But let’s wait until at least tomorrow’s game to make grand proclamations, says Nate Silver, at his FiveThirtyEight blog:
The Broncos’ Elo rating is 1683, which translates to being favored by a touchdown in a neutral-site game against an average opponent. It’s also a fairly typical rating for the best team in the league at this point in the season… Their Thursday-night home game against San Diego will be highly informative.
Here’s another IAOFM article, with projections for all the records the Broncos could challenge/break.
As the Chiefs had upset the Chargers the week before, the hype was somewhat diminished, and the Broncos went into the game as 9 point favorites. The Broncos won 35-21, behind a 3 TD/0 INT performance from Manning. The offense put up 425 yards and was 8/13 on 3rd downs. Hillman ran for 109 yards, and Juwan Thompson added 2 TDs.
Highlights from the Gut Reaction:
It’s still a week away from Halloween, but the Broncos are getting scary. Too many monsters. Too many ways for the opponent to die. Tonight, the Broncos fed the Frankenstein that was Emmanuel Sanders. The Chargers were torn limb from limb. Be afraid, AFC West. Be very afraid.
- Emmanuel Sanders was a one-man wrecking crew tonight. For the game, Sanders was targeted nine times. He came away with nine catches.
- Any reason to think Von Miller won’t challenge Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record of 22.5? If my virgin algebra is correct, after tonight, Miller is on pace for 20.5 sacks.
- I’m not sure there is a better pair of corners in the league now than Aqib Talib and Chris Harris.
- Nate Irving and Brandon Marshall are really growing on me, and not like a fungus. More like a skin tag. No need for cosmetic changes.
- Ronnie Hillman moving the pile? That just
- Speaking of erections lasting more than four hours, I’d be shocked if the Broncos don’t lock up both Demaryius and Julius Thomas for a long, long time.
- Phil Rivers as MVP. No. After tonight, it’s Peyton Manning—again. There is no quarterback playing right now outside of Aaron Rogers who gets defenses to give away their leverage pre snap. Also, you might want to check out Manning’s QB rating so far this year. It’s going up faster than a Cialis commercial.
- Peyton Manning, in his post-game interview, had it right. The Broncos have beaten two teams in the last two weeks with defenses decimated by injuries. That calls for cautious optimism.
Here’s a host of articles, talking about how Peyton is probably the greatest of all time, expiations as to why Peyton’s TD record will stand the test of time (they projected he’d reach 627 career TD passes), why Denver is better than they were in 2013, and why Kizla was certain they’d return to the SB.
The Broncos again improved in all advanced football metrics (efficiency ratings, gross winning percentage, SRS, and DOVA), and continued being ranked an emphatic unanimous #1. Burke of sportsonearth.com had more nice things to say, and Doug concedes the Broncos have a “real shot of running the table at 15-1. Fivethirtyeight.com, projected the Broncos had a 79% chance of winning the #1 seed, and said they would increase to 91.3% with a win over the Patriots. Imagine that, 91% chance of earning the 1 seed only 8 games into the season.
Wrapping up October:
At the end of the month, Peyton was 174/252 (69%) for 2134 with 22 TDs, only 3 INTs, and a QB Rating of 119, and was on pace for the 2nd best season of his career. For reference, through 7 games in 2013, he was 207/289 (71.6%), for 2565 yards, 25 TDs, only 3 ints, and a QB Rating of 123.3. 5/9 NFL.com writers chose Manning as their 1st half MVP (with 3 votes for Rodgers and 1 for Brady).
Von Miller was named AFC Defensive Player of the month with 7 sacks in 4 games.
Hillman finished October with 347 yards (87 ypg, and 4.75 YPC), along with 2 TDs. Juwan had 107 yards on 25 carries (4.46 YPC) along with 3 TDs, and saw carries in every game. CJ had only 3 carries and 12 offensive snaps, all coming in garbage time. Montee was due back 2 weeks later. If it weren’t for new injuries to Hillman and Ball, I think it’s much more likely CJ ends up on the waiver wire/practice squad then on the active game day lineup. Yet 2 weeks later he took the starting role and never looked back.
The rest of 2014
Unfortunately, we know what happened next. The Broncos lost a much anticipated game in Foxboro and 2 weeks later were upset in an incredibly disappointing game against the St. Louis Rams. Injuries to Julius Thomas and a lack of production from Wes Welker began to slow down the offense. When JT let the rest of the league know, “It was so fucking easy,” he had 24 catches for 277 yards and 9 TDs through four and a half games. In the remaining 11 and a half, he was held to 19 catches for 212 yards and 3 TDs, before being run out of town. Oh how quickly things can change in the NFL.
Manning’s play also began to decline, although he still showed flashes of brilliance including a 27/35, 4 TD/0 INT performance against the Dolphins, and the team finished the season on a 5-1 run. The Broncos lost their shot at home field advantage in an ugly loss to the Bengals, and 3 weeks later were sent home early by the Colts. Fox was fired a few days later, and questions lingered all offseason about Manning’s ability and whether he should retire. Manning returned, got injured, lost his starting job, regained his starting job, lead the team to a super bowl victory, and lived happily ever after.
Miscellaneous interesting articles I saw
- http://www.itsalloverfatman.com/broncos/entry/new-directv-deal-portends-huge-contracts-for-thomases-knighton-harris (Doug predicted Manning may get a pay raise thanks to the raising salary cap…)
- http://www.itsalloverfatman.com/broncos/entry/in-percy-harvin-the-jets-added-a-real-peach-to-their-locker-room (and it came out that the Seahawks tried to trade Percy Harvin for JT)
- The Broncos Released Matt Prater in a highly debated move that proved rocky at times, but ultimately proved to be the right one and saved a significant amount of cap space.
- http://www.itsalloverfatman.com/broncos/entry/broncos-promote-shaq-barrett-to-active-roster (trivia fact, he took the roster spot when they moved Danny T to IR)
If you want to browse through more articles from the month of October, follow these two links: