November 22, 2009
DENVER • The Boy Wonder must find inspiration for his wrecked team.
So here’s what Josh McDaniels should do.
He should announce to his Denver Broncos that all is not lost. The Broncos can still ride to the playoffs, even after Sunday’s 32-3 surrender to the San Diego Chargers. They can rescue Thanksgiving Day for millions of their stunned fans.
Transformation, McDaniels should shout to his players, is possible.
Just look at the Chargers.
On Sunday, the Chargers mauled the Broncos at Invesco, inspiring all but a few hundred fans to flee to their cars before the final minutes. The Chargers were, on this afternoon, a marauding, dominating machine of a team.
But on Oct. 19, a mere month ago, these same Chargers were in ruins. They had surrendered 93 points in three losses. They trailed the Broncos by 31/2 games in the AFC West and looked doomed as playoff contender.
Yet the Chargers clawed their way out of this ugly slump, winning five straight games. During the streak, the Chargers’ once-generous defense has allowed only 13.2 points per game.
If the Chargers can resurrect, so can the Broncos, even if it might require a gigantic change of heart.
A few minutes after the loss, receiver Brandon Marshall wondered what had happened to his team’s fire.
“There were guys on the sideline who weren’t angry, who didn’t have a lot of emotion,” Marshall said. “They need to look themselves in the mirror.”
I don’t often say this, but Marshall is correct.
For McDaniels, this renovation of his team’s psyche won’t be easy. This is a rush job. The New York Giants, badly in need of victory for their own playoff quest, march into Invesco on Thursday evening.
This isn’t a hopeless cause. The Broncos, despite all their recent ineptitude, still have six wins. They still have a potentially powerful defense and an adequate offense. They have a chance to revive.
Yes, the Broncos looked pitiful on Sunday, and, yes, the Broncos have looked pitiful for the past four games. The offense, never mighty this season, has averaged 9.25 points in four consecutive losses.
I’m not going to try to explain how McDaniels handled quarterback Kyle Orton on Sunday. That’s because the coach’s decisions were inexplicable.
After determining Orton wasn’t healthy enough to start the game, McDaniels was comfortable leaving Orton in the game during trash time in the fourth quarter. That makes no sense.
If Orton is healthy enough to start Thursday against the Giants, the Broncos have a chance at victory.
“I think I’ll be ready,” Orton said. “I’ve been getting better everyday. … I’ll be ready to go Thursday.”
But the Broncos only have a shot if the defense returns to its recent glory days. The Broncos rampaged into the opening weeks of the season as one of the NFL’s premier defenses.
During the season-opening, six-game win steak, the Broncos allowed 13.2 points a game, and this was no fluke performance against a collection of weaklings. Denver silenced prolific offenses from Cincinnati, Dallas and New England.
Then the good times came crashing to an end. The Broncos have surrendered 117 points during this four-game losing streak while teams ran all over them.
The Chargers ran for 203 yards, including 155 in the second half. This shellacking comes a week after the lowly Redskins powered their way to 174 yards rushing.
And yet …
The Chargers offered a potential blessing in this draining, humiliating afternoon.
Their unlikely revival could offer inspiration to a stumbling team.