DENVER – Broncos fans devote big chunks of their days to worrying about a team that is both a diversion and an affliction. This worrying is not just a Sunday thing. It’s an all-the-time thing.
After the Broncos crawled to victory Sunday over the Raiders, the temptation is to spend the next two weeks in distress. Yes, the Broncos don’t play next Sunday, which means you must seek an alternative to staring, lost to the world, at the marauding images on your TV.
Don’t do distress. Soothe your mind with thoughts from the 2015 season, when the Broncos were seldom dazzling. But – and I think you’ll remember this – the Broncos rode a string of near-losses all the way to NFL supremacy.
The 2017 Broncos have twice – against the Chargers and Raiders – come perilously close to blowing comfortable leads in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Trevor Siemian looked frighteningly incompetent on a sunny afternoon in Buffalo. Raiders tight end Jared Cook dropped a perfectly thrown fourth-quarter pass in the end zone.
You get the picture. The Broncos could easily be stumbling around with a 1-3 record.
I like this team. The Broncos dominated the Raiders and, especially, the Chargers for three quarters. The defense resembles a wall of doom against the run. Just ask the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott about that wall. Siemian is still growing. He’ll never be great, but he might think his way into the list of the NFL’s top 20 quarterbacks.
A year ago, the Broncos struggled with its rush offense and its rush defense. Explaining the transformation from Super Bowl champ to non-playoff chump is complicated, but the best explanation is the departure of a rugged, snarling attitude.
The snarl was back, at least in the first three quarters. The Raiders rushed for 24 yards while Marshawn Lynch crawled to 12 yards on nine carries. It was a virtual repeat of Elliott’s afternoon of agony.
Defensive end Derek Wolfe is a lovable grump who yearns for disrespect.
“We want to be doubted,” Wolfe said. “We want people to underestimate how good we are.”
Doubts, though, would be silly.
In 2015, the Broncos competed in 14 games decided by seven or fewer points. They won 12 of them. They sometimes won because they were often blessed with luck, but they usually won because of superior will and superlative defense. The 1997 and 1998 Super Bowl champs were blessed with staggering talent on both sides of the ball. The offensive skills of the 2015 champs never staggered anyone.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr never found his groove against the Broncos, primarily because his running backs never gained any semblance of traction.
In the old days, Bronco fans hated everything associated with the mangy, despicable Raiders. Sorry, but there’s nothing despicable about Carr.
“They are the best,” Carr said of the Broncos defense that had just vanquished him. “We will look back on them years from now and say, ‘Wow, that’s one of the best groups to ever be assembled.’ That’s why it’s so fun to compete against them.”
And so fun to watch them.
Don’t worry, even if you spent much of Sunday in a state of stress.
This team has a chance to be special.