DENVER – Peyton Hillis would have scored on fourth and a yard.
The 250-pound earth-mover would have muscled his way into the end zone and sliced into the Indianapolis Colts lead. He would have given the Broncos a chance at victory.
One problem: Hillis no longer carries the football for the Broncos. Instead, he labors for the Cleveland Browns, and you might have noticed he rampaged to 144 yards Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens violent defense.
The Broncos found yet another way to lose on Sunday, and this time it was a 27-13 defeat at the hands of Peyton Manning and his Colts. Denver has lost 10 of 13 and six of seven with a numbing brand of football.
Let’s give coach Josh McDaniels his due.
He’s a magician when it comes to cleaning house. He inherited one of the NFL’s most dangerous offenses, and responded by shipping talent all across America.
Hillis is in Cleveland. Jay Cutler is in Chicago. Brandon Marshall is in Miami. There was a reason for every move, but McDaniels never got around to finding replacement parts.
The offensive house is clean. Those who dared clash with the NFL’s youngest coach have been banished from his kingdom.
McDaniels reigns as the Broncos undisputed ruler, which means he sits in the center of the wreckage. He took over a team that needed a bit of tinkering to vault in the playoffs.
He’s taken that same team straight to the NFL basement. He doesn’t deserve all the blame. Owner Pat Bowlen handed unlimited power to a coach with limited experience.
The Boy Wonder is in danger of turning into The Boy Blunder. Before arriving in Colorado, McDaniels worked with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots and earned a reputation as an offensive genius.
That might have been false advertising.
The Broncos have failed to score 20 points in eight of 11 defeats during the McDaniels era. They lack the toughness and the focus and the talent and the strategy to find a route to the end zone, even when they travel to the very shadow of the goal line.
When the 2010 season ends, and I’m predicting it will end ugly, fans and critics will look at a moment from the second quarter. The Broncos had driven 79 yards to the 1-yard line.
And got stuck there.
Three plays later, the Broncos had barely moved, leaving McDaniels with a big upside, big downside decision.
Gambling on fourth down is a lot of fun and can lead to all sorts of jumping up and down … if you’re successful. Air Force used repeated fourth-down gambles to slip past Wyoming on Saturday.
Let’s just say McDaniels endured a different experience on Sunday.
He bet on his offense, defying the odds and sending Laurence Maroney scooting around the left side of the line. This was Maroney’s third run in the last four plays.
He failed, again. A trio of Colts all but devoured Maroney before he crossed the goal line. Sure, Maroney came achingly close, but the nearness of it all only adds to the Broncos pain.
Hillis, shipped far away, would have scored. I guarantee that.
“I’d do the same thing again,” McDaniels said.
Before you do try the same thing again, Josh, I’d suggest you find a short-yardage back. Just a thought.
Quarterback Kyle Orton delivered a noble, if futile, performance. Without any semblance of a running game, Orton was forced to throw 57 times, leading the Broncos on a long afternoon ride to nowhere.
This is a soft offense, devoid of muscle, lacking in tough guys.
Remember, this offense is entirely McDaniels’ creation.