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The Broncos’ slow starts are nothing to dismiss

South Stands Denver | November 11, 2014


In fact, this wasn’t the first time one might’ve watched the beginning of a Broncos game and wondered what the hell is wrong with Manning?

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Lost in the shuffle of the Denver Broncos’ 41-17 beat down of the Oakland Raiders on Sunday will be that this was a game that early on had all the telltale signs of disaster.

It took the Broncos seven possessions to score their first touchdown of the game; a fantastic individual effort by running back C.J. Anderson that at the time saved Peyton Manning’s line in the box score from probably being one of the worst first halves of his career.

It will be lost in the shuffle, of course, because no one dares to question a team who basically won by 31 points before the Raiders tacked on a late touchdown against a defense largely consisting of second and third teamers.

That’s all well and good, but just for fun; let’s take a look at the end of the six possessions before that touchdown: Interception, field goal, field goal, interception, punt, punt. Not particularly pretty for a team with Super Bowl aspirations playing against the worst team in the NFL.

But more to the point, the quarterback that we all universally acknowledge too be the catalyst for the Broncos, a field general the likes have which have never been seen in the NFL, the perfectionist leader of the Broncos – Peyton Manning: He looked awful.

In fact, this wasn’t the first time one might’ve watched the beginning of a Broncos game and wondered what the hell is wrong with Manning?

Against New England, the results of Denver’s first half possessions were even worse: Punt, punt, touchdown, interception, punt (returned for a touchdown), missed field goal, and stopped on fourth down. The game before against San Diego it was punt, punt, touchdown, punt before they turned up the pressure. Against the Jets, four punts and a field goal in their first five possessions. Even when Denver played Arizona the team was intercepted before their second touchdown.

Obviously that’s not an indictment of Manning by himself, but objective fans will note as I did, he doesn’t always exactly pass the eye test either early in these contests. Manning’s never going to win any awards for the aesthetically pleasing nature of his passes, but early in games the underthrown floaters seem to be more profound and last longer than the previous week.

Many, including myself, have speculated that Manning may perhaps have an injury that the team is hiding. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that an NFL team did such a thing. Probably not even the first time its happened with Manning in a Broncos uniform, if indeed this is the case. Perhaps there’s something else going on entirely that we simply aren’t privy to, or it’s even possible that the ravages of time are finally starting to affect the great technician.

But the purpose here is not to speculate on, or reveal some grand conspiracy. The point is that Peyton Manning’s slow starts (and by extension Denver’s) are usually dismissed as long as the end result is a win. And when a solid team like New England uses the Broncos’ slow start as a way to never let them get off the mat, it’s explained away in some other fashion. But there’s always an excuse.

“It’s tough to start strong in a divisional game on the road.”

Dude, it was the Raiders.

“It’s really hard to go into Foxboro in the cold and get a win.”

Seven other teams have to do it this year, and they don’t all have Super Bowl aspirations, yet I bet they don’t all get embarrassed either.

Then there’s my personal favorite:

“How can you nitpick a guy who just threw four (or three or five or whatever that particular week brought) touchdowns?”

I can do that because I remember the Super Bowl. As cliché as that is to say, mistakes early in the game put Denver in a deep hole early and even Manning wasn’t enough to bring Denver all the way back against a top-flight team.

You can make all the excuses you want, but that’s what happened. Ditto against the Seahawks this year, where Denver’s first half possessions went fumble, field goal, punt, punt, punt. Then again versus the Patriots the Broncos got off to a slow start and couldn’t recover.

“That’s cute Zach,” the reader might say, “but you can’t just pick out Denver’s three losses in the last year as a problematic pattern.”

Then it’s a good thing that that’s not what I’m doing. As stated earlier, the slow starts aren’t only happening in losses, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. It just means that sometimes you get the Raiders or the Jets to kick around, other weeks you play a team that’s good enough to make you regret it.

But the Raiders and the Jets aren’t going to make the playoffs. The Patriots and the Seahawks are.

There will always be excuses and explanations that soften the blow of rough starts, but they’ll all be of little consolation if there’s a repeat of last year’s Super Bowl. And if Denver starts slow in that game, please believe that that will come to fruition.

Whether it’s health, preparation, or just a problem with the warm up routine, Manning needs to find a way to start faster on a consistent basis. If not, as the Oakland Raiders’ of the world start getting eliminated, the Broncos may find themselves in legitimate trouble.


Written by South Stands Denver


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