Posted October 28, 2013

Broncos ruin Mike Shanahan’s return, roll to 7th win despite Peyton Manning’s mistakes

AFC West, Denver Broncos, NFC East, Washington Redskins
Mike Shanahan's return to Denver was not what he intended.

Mike Shanahan’s return to Denver was not what he intended. (John Leyba/Denver Post via Getty Images)

Through the first seven games of their 2013 season, the Denver Broncos’ narrative was pretty simple. Like the 1999 Rams or 2007 Patriots, or one of the many Indianapolis Colts teams guided by Peyton Manning in the last 10 years, this was a team with an offense good enough to overcome its relative liability of a defense. On pace to set all sorts of offensive records, this Broncos team ranked 26th overall in Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted metrics on defense. Admittedly, the disparity between the ratings against the pass (27th) and the run (fifth) spoke to a compensatory truth — that when you have an offense putting up points at a rate of 42.6 per game, you’re going to face a lot of desperate teams looking to throw the ball as much as possible.

Still, there was a sneaking suspicion that this Broncos team might hit the playoffs at the wrong time, against the wrong team, and implode based on its inefficiency on defense, and its inconsistency in the running game. Both fears were magnified in a Week 7 loss to the Colts, when Indy’s defense clamped down hard on Manning and his receivers, and beat them with the balanced offensive attack Denver could not muster.

From there, it was on to a week in which it was revealed that Manning had injuries to both ankles — by his own estimation, the Wednesday practice he missed was the first he’d ever not participated in to any degree. Add in the fact that the Washington Redskins were coming to town with head coach Mike Shanahan in tow, and this had all the trimmings of a revenge/trap game. Shanahan, of course, was fired as Denver’s coach following the 2008 season after 14 years, a 138-86 regular-season record and two Super Bowl championships.

Still, when it counted and when Manning played perhaps his worst game as a Bronco, those previously underwhelming aspects of the team stepped up to help Denver beat Washington 45-21, in a game that was not nearly as explosive as the final score might indicate. Manning threw three interceptions, two of them to cornerback DeAngelo Hall, and one of which was returned for a touchdown, and Denver trailed 21-7 early in the third quarter. But Manning was able to turn it around, and his teammates were able to match his effort. The Broncos tied a team record by scoring 38 points in the second half of a game — the last time they did that was against the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976.

In addition, Denver’s defense managed two picks against Robert Griffin III, and two more against backup Kirk Cousins when Griffin suffered a knee injury in the fourth quarter. Washington was limited to 266 total yards on 70 plays, and 154 passing yards on 39 total attempts.

It wasn’t Denver’s most compelling win this year, but it may have been the team’s most balanced. And on that point, head coach John Fox will take it.

“I think without a doubt that was our best defensive outing,” Fox said. “We challenged our guys all week, we had a great week of preparation. The Washington Redskins came in here with the No. 4 offense in the National Football League, so we knew they were explosive both running the ball and some big plays over the top that they’d done earlier in the game review. So I thought [the defense] responded great. They come in bunches, as far as those turnovers. To be honest with you, we left a couple on the table there in the first half. It’s a good starting point.”

Shanahan knew that if he didn’t close Manning out, he would eventually respond, and that’s exactly when Manning did. He threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Wes Welker in the first quarter, was blanked for the next two quarters, and opened the floodgates in the final 15 minutes, throwing touchdowns to three of his receivers.

As Manning recalled, the impetus really started with the third-quarter drive in which the Broncos traveled 75 yards in 11 plays, and scored on a four-yard run by Montee Ball. Denver’s next drive was an even bigger drain to the Redskins defense — it went 83 yards on 16 plays, and concluded with a one-yard scoring pass to tight end Joel Dreessen. Like a boxer who needs to get hit hard in the face a few times before he really engages, Manning had awakened, and it was all over from there.

“We put our defense in a really tough spot with two turnovers back-to-back,” he recalled. “The defense played great the entire game. We gave them [the Redskins] an easy 14 points there. I thought that was critical to answer. I knew we couldn’t get it all in one play, Washington was trying to make us go the distance. We had four possessions in the first half, all of them were 80-plus, some of them even 90-plus yard drives if we had scored. So we knew at halftime we were going to have to go the long haul. And we did. Those first two drives after the first two turnovers and were able to tie the game. That one to make it 21-14 was critical.”

Griffin was game at the start — he appeared to have his legs about him in ways he hadn’t throughout this season. But the Broncos were able to limit him to 15 completions on 30 attempts for 132 yards and just one touchdown. Griffin said after the game that he was fine, and that he could have come back into the game, but it seemed that the Redskins were being preventative and proactive at that point. Griffin threw both of his picks and lost a fumble in the fourth quarter, and including those interceptions, Washington’s last four drives ended in picks.

“They say all the time and it is cliché — in this league your record says who you are, and I just don’t believe we are a 2-5 football team,” Griffin said. “We prove it at times when we can get big leads and then play with teams like the Broncos. We just let it get out of hand. It is disappointing, but nobody in that locker room is going to quit. I talk to my guys every time we go on the field. I don’t care what the score it, we have to have the mindset that every time we are on the field we are going to score a touchdown. As a team, we have to make sure we stay focused. Our division is still wide open. We have to dig ourselves out of this hole and that’s all we can do.”

For Shanahan, it was less about his old home and more about looking forward. The Redskins do have reason to hope — they play in a less-than-stellar division which they won last season with a 10-6 record despite a 3-6 start.

“There’s a lot of missed opportunities, and if you’re going to beat Denver on the road you’re going to have to play one of your better games,” the coach concluded. “They have a great offense, great special teams. I know they haven’t done some of the things that they would like to do defensively, but I think we all know they were one of the top defenses in the league last year. And this is not the end of the season. This is not even the midway point. And so, you can judge Denver’s defense at the end of the season.”

Perhaps it’s less painful for Shanahan to think about the plays Denver made than the ones his new team didn’t. Either way, there’s the comfort of the familiar.

14 comments
benko916
benko916

At the end of the season (including playoffs) All I want to hear is... in the voice of Pat Bowlen.... "This... Ones... For... PEYTON!!!"   

 note: the ... is for the pauses, Pat Bowlen always pauses in between words before he can finish a sentence. Anyways GO DENVER BRONCOS!!!!

 To all the Chiefs fans saying Denver is overrtated and the Chiefs are for real, (I've read a lot of posts like this on the Chiefs forums) The Chiefs have only scored 31 points once, and that was against a BAD Giants Defense. Their second highest score was 28 against the Jaguars (enough said), The Broncos, this season has never scored less than 33, against a team that is all around better than the Chiefs, a game Denver should of won by double digits, except we had to many turnovers to overcome, and we almost did until Ronnie Fumbleman fumbled on 1st and goal, the game was still winnable. So anyone who thinks the Chiefs even have a chance is crazy, anything can happen in the NFL, I will give you that, but the way its looking is highly unlikely! 

Look at the teams the Chiefs have played, not a single one with a winning record, I know the Broncos haven't played the top caliber teams either so far, but we have proven again and again that we are the better team, scoring 31 points in the 4th quarter is the same as the chiefs scoring 31 points for the whole game... We are just a better team and I have a really good feeling we will destroy the Chiefs both times we play them, just like last season when DT and PFM had their best games of the season.... 

Chiefs fans do you remember Eric Deckers and DT amazing catches in week 17? What was the final score? Oh yeah thats right, Chiefs got owned!! Alex Smith has 1 TD pass in the last 4 weeks, they are getting lucky more than they are winning in style, unlike the Broncos. 

Chiefs will make the playoffs but with a game manager QB and slow offense their over powered defense can only do so much. (I do respect the Chiefs Defense) I am A Broncos fan, but I live in California, an hour away from SF, so Ive seen most of Alex Smiths games (before harbaugh) and all I can say is ugly.... Alex Smith is in for a world of hurt. Thanks for reading and GO DENVER BRONCOS!!!!!

Cool
Cool

What amazes me is the number of articles written about how the Bronco's offense is off the charts good (well if we forget the number of interceptions Peyton seems to be having) and the defense needs lots of help... and then going to the NCAAF stories and see how many teams are wanting to offer Jack Del Rio a HC job at their school.   What am I missing here?  His defense is among the worst in the NFL, yet he is highly sought after to be a head coach in the NCAA?

jayboog68
jayboog68

Thus far, I've been unwilling to jump on the bandwagon but now I have to admit, the 'Skins will not win as long as Kyle Shanahan is the OC. They were on their way to a big win, running the ball and keeping Manning and the Denver offense off the field, up by 14 points with momentum on their side. Why then did they abandon the run and give Manning the ball over and over in the 2nd half? I know that the NFL is a pass-happy league and there's nothing sexy about pounding out a win with the run game, but there's no way the Redskins outgun the Broncos, so the game plan in the second half just blows my mind. This loss is on the Kyle Shanahan, plain and simple.

Steve Phillips
Steve Phillips

Great comeback. Fox needs to trade or cut Vickerson.

FredFlintsone
FredFlintsone

Not many head coaches with teams as bad as skins get standing ovations

airmjbsanders
airmjbsanders

RG3 is officially the most overrated player in the NFL by far!  How did this guy win OROY over Luck last yr & why does he get more pub than Kaep & RWilson?  Of the 4, he's the only 1 who won't even sniff the playoffs this yr!  SMGDH...

Miss_B_22
Miss_B_22

@Cool You're apparently missing your brain! Del Rio's D was on the field as a whole unit for the first time of the season this week. You see the outcome!

Joebuckster
Joebuckster

@jayboog68 They were on their way to a big loss, they just didn't know it yet. Denver always starts slow, then they kick your butt in the second half. Same story here. Now that Miller is back the 'D' is going to look scarier every week. They're going 15-1, you heard it here first. Sorry Chiefs fans - your team is a mirage of tight wins against mediocre teams. The day of reckoning is coming...

benko916
benko916

@Steve Phillips Vickerson gives us stupid penalties and makes bad choices, but he is still a vital threat in our D. I say give him a few more chances and clean up the dumb late hit on QB's and he will be a great commodity.  GO DENVER BRONCOS!!!! Mile High Salute all the way from sactown!!

benko916
benko916

@FredFlintsone Your opinion.... Was it Shanahan that won us 2 super bowls in 97/98 or was it Elway + TD (Terrell Davis)  I say it was Elway and TD, but I have a few friends who argue and say if it wasn't for Shanahan then Denver wouldn't of even made the playoffs those years...... What do you guys think?

anon76
anon76

@airmjbsanders 

I think the problem is that you're asking why he won an award last year based on this year's performance.  He won it last year because he played better than Luck, with a weaker defense and more porous offensive line.  He was much more efficient throwing the ball than Luck, he threw way less picks, and he was a serious threat running the ball (Luck is mobile, but just not the running threat of Kap, Wilson, or RGIII).

Long story short, RGIII won last year because he played better.  This year he has thus far been unable to replicate that performance, while Wilson and Luck have both shown some improvement.

benko916
benko916

@Joebuckster @jayboog68 I agree with you, me being a DIE HARD Denver Bronco fan basically since birth (born 83) Ive been a Bronco fan my whole life, and I love how our team is doing this year. If Ronnie Fumbleman did not FUMBLE the ball against the Colts on a 1st and goal then we would go 16-0 but can't live in the past!!! GO DENVER BRONCOS!!!! Love ur comment by the way, you are so right Jayboog68!!!