DENVER — We’ve seen Von Miller in 1,000 different lights.
He’s pitched deodorant in his underwear. He’s expertly explained the difference between layers and fryers at his Texas chicken farm. He’s sack-danced the “Sexy T-Rex." He’s one of a kind, a one-and-only.
We’ve never seen him like this.
“I’m in Year 7. I don’t want to have a losing season in my prime. I don’t want to have a team score 51 points on us,” Vonnie Football said almost a week after the Eagles blasted the Broncos into a stark reality, 51-23. He's not over it.
The hype train for Broncos-Patriots usually hums out of control. This edition felt like a buildup to a beat-down, Sunday night at Sports Authority Field.
Lost in the losses is Miller's electric season. After arriving at training camp in superhero form, Von is the highest-rated pass-rusher in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. It seems no blocker can hold him down. After six seasons covering the most dominant defensive player to suit up for the Broncos, I was convinced no situation could bring down his mood, either. Even after the Broncos lost 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII, a game Von didn't play due to injury, Miller found his way to the party scene, a Manhattan nightclub where the Seahawks were celebrating.
But under bluebird skies alongside the Dove Valley practice fields, Miller delivered a heartfelt, gloomy state of the union on the Broncos. Four straight losses turned Colorado’s signature smile into a frown. It’s the worst losing skid of Von’s career — high school, college or professional. And for a competitor who could be playing the best ball of his career, the losing hurts.
“I’m looking at the scoreboard (in Philadelphia) and we’re down by like 30 points,” Miller said in a rant long on explanations, short on answers. “They have (backup quarterback) Nick Foles in.”
“It’s one of the biggest losses of my career. I don’t think it’s something that you just totally forget,” he said. “I’m sure as a team and I’m sure as a defense, you forget stuff like that. But me being the guy I am, I’ll always remember that because I never want to experience that again.”
Here it’s Patriots Week, a game that had become an event. Now it’s the birthday party you’d rather skip: Who wants to see your ex when you look like this? The Broncos and Patriots have represented the AFC in the past four Super Bowls. Until Sunday, their epic duels had all the pomp, circumstance, history and star power of a new Star Wars release.
Manning vs. Brady.
The NFL’s greatest offense vs. its greatest defensive mind, Bill Belichick.
Von’s leather vests vs. Handsome Tom’s sweaters.
Their matchups never disappointed. The games were better than advertised, if anything, a true feat considering the buzz they brought. The Broncos defense once referred to Brady as a crybaby. Defensive lineman Derek Wolfe once told Brady he would eat Brady’s children. The Patriots once erased a 24-0 deficit to beat the Broncos, 34-31, on a face-numbing night in Foxboro. (It marked the biggest comeback of Brady’s career until the Patriots erased a 28-3 deficit to win Super Bowl LI in February). The Broncos once hit Brady 20 times in a game. (It marked the most quarterback hits by one defense in the entire NFL season.) It wasn’t until last season — 17 years into his Foxboro reign — that Bill Belichick was able to lift his record against the Broncos to .500 (9-9).
Denver was New England’s only true threat. And when these teams went, they went big.
Only one man can prevent the Broncos from going down, big, on Sunday night: Von Miller. His is one of the few matchups that favors the Broncos — a backup offensive tackle, LaAdrian Waddle (No. 68), against an All-Pro, Miller (No. 58). His success against the Patriots is one of the few reasons to believe the Broncos can right their season. Since 2011, Miller has 7.5 sacks of Brady, the most of any player. He needed just eight games to do it. The Broncos usually get the better of Brady. They’re 9-7 against him, 3-0 in the playoffs.
“He’s the G.O.A.T.,” Miller said.
“There’s two different types of emotions you can have going against the best,” he added.
One is to play scared, as if Brady is too cool to be schooled.
“Or you can have an emotion like, ‘I’m going against the best. I’m going to go out here and I’m going to play lights out so I can show everybody what we’re about,’” Miller said.
Sunday night, the Broncos’ success against the Patriots is a curse more than a blessing. Once the Broncos were bullies. Now they’re being bullied. Barring a signature show from Vonnie Football, this one is going to hurt.
Broncos vs. Patriots: Who will get the win?