5-0 Broncos keep showing they’re for real
AP National Writer
ENGLEWOOD, Colorado – Unlike the coach he learned from, Josh McDaniels of the Broncos doesn’t shy from showing a little emotion.
His special teams assistant, Mike Priefer, surely knows about it after being on the wrong side of a protracted rant from the rookie coach.
Denver fans found out about it, too, when McDaniels ran to the corner of the stadium and started pumping his fists and hugging it out with players to celebrate Denver’s latest surprise – a 20-17 overtime win over New England.
“We work too hard not to enjoy the wins,” McDaniels said Monday. “We work too hard to try to minimize any success we might have on the weekend.”
Success is all McDaniels has enjoyed so far this season, in leading the Broncos to the NFL’s most surprising start.
The latest win, over his more stoic mentor, Bill Belichick, gave the Broncos a 5-0 record and McDaniels responded by giving the Broncos Monday off for the first time this season.
They’ll be back in the film room come Wednesday, and McDaniels insisted he’ll prove to the Broncos that undefeated is not the same as perfect. He’ll break down all the mistakes from their latest win.
“We can coach better and play better and they’ll see that on film. I don’t have to create that,” McDaniels said. “No coach has to create it either. They’ll see it on the film, and that’s just the truth.”
The brunt of the criticism will come over Denver’s special teams effort. A missed field goal. A decision to run a kickoff out from 6 yards deep in the end zone. Two crucial penalties – offsides and running into the punter – both on fourth-and-short to keep a New England drive alive. Kyle Orton’s tying, fourth-quarter, 98-yard touchdown drive wouldn’t have been that long if not for those two penalties.
After Darrell Reid ran into the punter, the TV cameras panned – then held – on McDaniels and the extended shout-down he was laying on Priefer. Easy to laugh at the episode now, because the Broncos won.
“Sometimes on game day, it’s better to listen to what you’re saying, than how you’re saying it,” McDaniels said. “And that would be my message to the staff.”
Errors and tantrums aside, Denver is in rarified air. Only three other teams have 5-0 records – and the other four times the Broncos have started this well, they’ve ended up in the Super Bowl.
Nearly a third of the way into the season, it is too late to attribute the Broncos success to them sneaking up on people, or a slate of games against bad opponents. Yes, there were wins over Cleveland and Oakland. But also over New England and Dallas. Even the season-opening Cincinnati win is looking a lot better: The Bengals (4-1) haven’t lost since.
The Broncos have given up a grand total of 43 points, four touchdowns fewer than any team that’s played five games. They are ranked second in yards allowed.
The offense, meanwhile, is getting more efficient. Orton threw for 330 yards and two scores against New England. He improved to 26-12 as an NFL starter.
In the preseason, Orton threw a left-handed interception against Seattle that had Broncos fans on edge, wondering if they were getting another Jake Plummer, or worse. Since then, though, Orton’s story has mirrored his team’s – one of steady improvement. How many games does he need to win before people start recognizing him as legit?
“He tries to get better,” McDaniels said. “He knows he’s not where he could be if he continues to improve and he sees there are plenty of things he can fix and get better at.”
Of course, five wins doesn’t get anyone into the playoffs and there are plenty of roadblocks ahead. Teams now have more film to look at to break down McDaniels’ tendencies. And the schedule remains brutal. Denver still has the Giants and Indianapolis (both 5-0), Pittsburgh and Baltimore (3-2), Philadelphia (3-1) and a pair starting next week with the Chargers (2-2), who were an odds-on pick to win the AFC West.
One big difference between now and when that schedule came out: None of those teams can look at Denver as a sure ‘W’ anymore.
Which is something else for McDaniels to get excited about.
“I’m letting my hair down,” he said of his postgame celebration. “It’s more fun when you win. And when you do, it’s everything any coach would want it to be.”