The New England Patriots invaded Colorado, seized 14-0 and 21-7 leads and a hint of a smile could be seen from Mr. Gloom, better known as Bill Belichick.
But change was coming for Mr. Gloom. Snow was on the way. And so was a Broncos comeback, led by a gangly quarterback from Montana.
Yes, we’re talking about Brock Osweiler, football’s forgotten man.
Less than two years ago, Osweiler revived his slumbering teammates and carried them to a 30-24 victory over Bellichick, Tom Brady and the defending champion Patriots. The Brock-led Broncos scored 23 points in the fourth quarter and an ultra-brief overtime.
In the fourth quarter, Osweiler threw one of finest Bronco passes of this decade, a floating, dead-on accurate throw down the sideline to Emmanuel Sanders. That throw, and others like it, inspired the Houston Texans to toss $37 million in guaranteed cash at Osweiler in the offseason.
Yes, Osweiler’s career has disintegrated since abandoning the Broncos. He went, with astonishing speed, from the NFL’s next big thing to a quarterback the pitiful Cleveland Browns didn’t want on their roster.
But maybe the 2015 version of Osweiler still lives. That version led the Broncos to 5-2 record. That version directed the Broncos 27-10 lead over the Steelers before the defense collapsed in a 34-27 defeat.
That 2015 version of Osweiler could revive an offense that struggles to score and struggles to serve as proper comrades to a powerful, enraged defense. Since starting 4-0 last season, the Broncos are 8-10 and have scored 16 or fewer points nine times. In the past four games, the Broncos have scored 42 points, including 10 in the past two games.
In his introductory press conference, Vance Joseph expressed faith in a broken-down Bronco offense, the same offense that scored a total of 23 points in consecutive, season-dooming losses to the Titans, Patriots and Chiefs.
"It's a league of scoring points," Joseph said. "It comes with confidence. It comes with swagger. For us, 28 points, that's going to be the standard.”
Joseph’s words made little sense in January. They make even less sense today.
A change at the top is required. Trevor Siemian was given a lengthy chance to prove he’s a worthy NFL starter. He failed, even if Joseph is blind to this truth. Siemian has not, and will not, consistently put enough points on the board.
Last Sunday, Joseph again showed faith in his faltering quarterback. Trailing 14-0 to the Chargers early in the fourth quarter, Joseph and Siemian faced a fourth and six. The Broncos were in range for a 38-yard field goal.
Joseph made a mystifying decision. He went for the first down, and Siemian rewarded his belief by throwing an interception. The play served as a brief summary of two weeks of ineptitude.
Osweiler spent the game not doing much of anything. He stared at formation photos on the bench. He changed his hat.
He watched his rival quarterback deliver zero points.
I realize Osweiler played horrifically last season for the Texans, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns and crumbling under expectations. Given a second chance in Cleveland, he failed to earn a roster spot.
This failure remains baffling. The Browns preferred DeShone Kizer and Kevin Hogan, a duo that has thrown seven touchdowns vs. 16 interceptions while directing the Browns to a 0-7 record.
But . . .
Osweiler delivered strong work at Mile High. He saved the Broncos against the Patriots. He led the Broncos to victory against the Bengals, fighting back from a 14-0 deficit. In his Bronco finale, he threw for 272 yards in a little over a half against the Chargers.
Going with Brock carries enormous risk. No doubt about that. But it’s a risk Joseph must take to save a season.
I promise you this:
Osweiler, given the chance, would lead the Broncos to more than 10 points in two weeks.
Joseph should have gone with Osweiler in the second half against the Giants and, especially, the Chargers. Joseph is stubborn, a trait that’s forgivable unless you’re stubbornly and repeatedly wrong.
It’s Brock time, again.