DENVER • Strange, how a team can play with the emotions of millions of fans. Just a couple of days ago, the Denver Broncos seemed ready to drain all the fun from this NFL season for much of the Front Range.
During my Thanksgiving meal, I was surrounded by depressed, pessimistic Broncos fans. All, it seemed, was lost.
Only it wasn’t.
On a fabulously warm Thanksgiving night, the Broncos resurrected, slapped the New York Giants upside the head and again resembled a playoff team in a 26-6 victory.
Hey, everyone needs a month off now and then. The Broncos rebounded from a baffling four-game losing streak and returned to those thrilling weeks of not so long ago when they seemed on their way to a certain AFC West Title.
“Honestly,” said cornerback Andre Goodman, “it looked like the Broncos from the first six weeks out there. We kind of have two different teams. The team that showed up today is something to be proud of.”
Suddenly, there are all kinds of reason for optimism.
The Chargers, suddenly surging, will be tough to catch, largely because of San Diego’s ultra-friendly schedule.
But the Broncos lead the AFC wild-card race by a half-game over the Steelers (Ben Roethlisberger is struggling with an aching head) and the Jaguars (who aren’t very good).
The Broncos can look forward to two games against the Chiefs and a battle at Invesco against the Raiders.
The remaining teams on Denver’s schedule have a combined 25-29 record. It’s not as easy a ride as the one ahead for the Chargers, but it’s close.
It is strange how different the Broncos looked from Sunday to Thursday.
On Sunday, Brandon Marshall was talking garbage … to his own teammate, Knowshon Moreno.
On Thursday, Marshall was gleefully saying mean things to Giants defenders after making spectacular one-handed grabs.
On Sunday, the Chargers ran wild over the Broncos’ listless, porous defense.
On Thursday, the Broncos all but devoured Giants quarterback Eli Manning and held the Giants to 57 yards rushing.
In the first half, the Giants crawled to 38 yards of total offense against the Broncos’ properly violent defense.
“We were having fun,” linebacker Mario Haggan said. “We haven’t been having fun the last couple weeks, but we had fun tonight.”
Haggan said it inspired him to watch his fellow defenders mauling Giants ball carriers.
“You wanted to join in,” he said. “You wanted to go out and make a play.”
The defense was the prime reason for the Broncos’ early surge, but during the four-game losing streak Denver allowed 29.25 points a game and made the might of the early season seem an illusion.
On Thursday, the might was back. Linebacker Elvis Dumervil was hassling Manning and safety Brian Dawkins was decking receivers and fans who were depressed on Sunday were jumping up and down on a day of Thanksgiving.
As the game ended, Dawkins was hugging every teammate in sight. He hugged Marshall. He hugged linebacker D.J. Williams.
When he couldn’t find anyone else to hug, he sprinted to the locker room, past fans who were again filled with hope.