Updated: November 24, 2009 at 12:00 am
ENGLEWOOD – The first time Denver Broncos fans saw Kyle Orton at Invesco Field at Mile High, they booed him. After all, this state hasn’t been very patient with quarterbacks since John Elway retired.
Orton did not play well during a scrimmage before the preseason started, and the fans let him know how they felt. And at least a few of those boos were presumably directed not at Orton but the decision to trade Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler.
About three months later, Orton was cheered like a Broncos legend. When he came into Sunday’s game despite an injured left ankle to relieve ineffective Chris Simms, the crowd stood and gave him a long, rousing cheer. The cheers got louder when Orton completed his first three passes to get the Broncos inside San Diego’s 5-yard line.
Orton has had an unusual season, from a miserable preseason to a great start to the regular season that had fans wondering if he could make the Pro Bowl. He was criticized a bit after losses to Baltimore and Pittsburgh, but after Simms struggled in his absence, Broncos fans may have a renewed appreciation for Orton.
Orton said he noticed the standing ovation. In typical Orton fashion, he talked about what it meant to the team that moment, how it gave the offense energy and helped with momentum during the drive.
And he finally admitted he took a moment to appreciate the personal meaning of it.
“It was great,” Orton said. “We have great fans here and they’ve treated me well ever since I’ve been here.”
The last two games have shown Orton’s value to the offense. He played about 64 minutes against Washington and San Diego, and completed 26-of-47 passes for 364 yards. Simms played about 56 minutes in those games and was 5-of-17 for 23 yards. Orton said his ankle feels good, and he should not be limited this week.
Outside of Denver, it is becoming obvious how much Orton means to the Broncos’ offense.
“Orton has got to be healthy in order for this group to work,” said NFL Network analyst Matt Millen, who will call Thursday’s game. “When Chris has come in during the last couple weeks, they have been completely off kilter.
“You can see the difference as soon as Orton came back in.”