Broncos get down to AFC West business
September, 24, 2013
By Jeff Legwold | ESPN.com
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesEric Decker and the Denver Broncos are heading in the right direction in the AFC West.
DENVER -- Three weeks into the season and there is one team in the NFL that has scored more than 100 points.
Actually, one team in the NFL that has scored more than 110 points. OK, one team in the NFL that scored more than 120 points.
And with their third consecutive game with at least 37 points the Denver Broncos formally announced their plans in the AFC West on Monday night with a nationally-televised 37-21 win over the Oakland Raiders at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Raiders rookie tight end Nick Kasa, a suburban Denver native who played at the University of Colorado and has spent a lifetime discussing the Broncos with friends and relatives, may have put it the best.
“They’re a devastating team," Kasa said. “That’s obvious from [Monday night]."
As August drew to a close, there were plenty of folks in and around the NFL who wondered how things would look in the AFC West. After all, the Broncos, with Peyton Manning behind center, are surrounded by three rebuilding projects in the division.
The Raiders are in the second year of what has been the league’s most extreme makeover and sported 10 different defensive starters from a year ago Monday night. In San Diego, former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is in his first season as the team’s head coach.
They are both 1-2 after three weeks and despite some quality moments in those three games -- small glimpses of potential -- they both look like there’s plenty of work still to do before all is said and done this season.
The Chiefs are another matter. First-year coach Andy Reid has Kansas City out of the gate at 3-0 with a defense that has surrendered just 34 points. But Chiefs-Broncos matchups are for another day.
What the Broncos showed Monday was division games are important to them. Everybody talks a good game about division games, about how they’re the only guaranteed road into the postseason for any team, but idle mid-week chatter is one thing, getting it done is another.
The Broncos showed the focus of a team with designs on bigger things, and that they want to leave no doubt in the division along the way.
Quarterback Peyton Manning will routinely say division games “count double," and losses in the division, especially home losses in the division, sting a little more. John Elway reeled in perhaps the greatest marquee player to hit the open market in the free-agency era. One of the reasons he wanted Manning so badly, beyond the extended and sometimes breathtaking list of quarterback stuff, was Manning’s constant push for his team to be a little better tomorrow than it was today.
Elway has described it as “that uncomfortable feeling," at times.
That can be seen in how the Broncos have handled their division business of late. In 2011, or YBM (the year before Manning) when they won the division at 8-8 overall, they were just 3-3 in AFC West games. Last season, Manning’s first in Denver, the Broncos were 6-0 in the division on the way to a 13-3 mark.
Or as linebacker Wesley Woodyard put it after Monday's victory: “It’s a division opponent, and the Raiders, they always bring their best shot. I hate losing to any division guys, especially the Raiders."
The bottom line is, in a league cocooned in overreaction, with every win celebrated like a lunar landing and every loss treated with a this-team-stinks-forever approach, the good teams simply need a get-off-my-lawn guy or two to keep the heads level. They need some grumpiness to sweep up the rose petals that get tossed from time to time.
Sure, there is a line there between some kind of joyless pursuit of victory and the easily obtained misplaced ego, but a good team needs some perspective as much as touchdowns. And the Broncos showed Monday night they are good, ruthlessly good at times, with a dose of perspective.
Manning threw three touchdown passes, was as dialed in with the Broncos receivers as he has been at any point in his career -- at one point late in the first half both of his incompletions were drops -- and the Broncos put up their second 500-yard game of the season.
The defense stifled the Raiders’ run game -- Oakland had averaged just more than 198 yards rushing coming in -- as Oakland finished with 49 yards on 17 carries. Yet after surrendering a touchdown in the third quarter and another in the fourth quarter, Woodyard, for one, was swatting away any compliments.
“No, I’m not pleased at all," Woodyard said. “We gave up 21 points. We’ve got to stop them at the end of the game. I’m not satisfied at all with that win. We’ll definitely take a win any time we can get one, but to give up 21 points, got to stop that leaky football."
Monday’s win was the Broncos' first in division play this season and will also be the last time they face a division opponent until Nov. 10, at San Diego. A lot can happen between now and then, but it's pretty clear Denver has the goods and may have to wrestle with itself a bit along the way because of it.
“We have to just play our football," Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson said. “I say fast, physical and violent, but we can’t give up garbage points, make mistakes, things like that. We just have to keep grindin’, man. Win your division first, worry about week to week; do that and things will work out. And we want things to work out, so everybody knows you have to do that. We’re 3-0 and moving on. That's it, look at the win and get to work."