Orton’s career taking off in Denver
AP Sports Writer
ENGLEWOOD, Colorado – In Chicago, his many critics suggested the “O” in quarterback Kyle Orton’s name really stood for “Ordinary.”
So far in Denver, then, it must mean “Outstanding.”
Orton’s Broncos are 5-0 for the first time since 1998, when they won their last Super Bowl with Hall of Famer John Elway under center.
Every week, Orton makes the much-maligned offseason trade of Pro Bowl passer Jay Cutler to Chicago for Orton and a king’s ransom of draft picks look more and more like a wise move for rookie coach Josh McDaniels.
While Cutler has settled in with the Bears (3-1), nobody in Denver is decrying his departure anymore.
Orton won AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for leading the Broncos to a 20-17 win over New England and McDaniels’ mentor, Bill Belichick, on Sunday in what was arguably his best game as a pro.
He completed a career-high 35 of 48 passes for 330 yards and two touchdown throws to cap drives that covered 90 and 98 yards. He then drove the Broncos methodically downfield for the winning kick in overtime.
“It was a special win, it was a special week,” Orton said Wednesday.
But can Orton be a “special” player?
“I don’t know how elite quarterbacks are judged. I don’t really know that,” McDaniels said. “All I care about is that he can help us win, and I know he can do that.”
Orton, whose only interception this season was a desperation pass that Randy Moss came down with to end the first half Sunday, has a 26-12 record (.684) as a starter.
That places him third among active passers with at least 25 starts, behind New England’s Tom Brady (.776) and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger (.711).
Orton’s 18-2 home record as a starter is the best in the league since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
When McDaniels was ordered by owner Pat Bowlen to grant Cutler’s trade wish after an offseason of discontent, he knew just who he wanted running his offense.
“Kyle’s always been a smart guy,” McDaniels said. “You could see that very clearly on the film. Any film. Put on any film of Kyle Orton and you’ll see a smart football player that has always had a lot of responsibility in terms of at the line of scrimmage, identifying the defense, getting his team in the right situations.
“So, that’s what we ask him to do here and he’s done a nice job of it.”
Orton has thrown for seven touchdowns and is averaging 247 yards passing for the Broncos after averaging just 161 yards through the air for the Bears, where he started for two seasons and part of a third.
Yet, Orton said he hasn’t changed much about his game since coming to Denver on April 3, other than working harder in the offseason to digest McDaniels’ thick playbook.
One thing he did appreciate, though, was McDaniels having his back when he got off to a stumbling start with his new team.
Orton had a three-interception performance in the Broncos’ preseason opener at San Francisco following an awful stadium scrimmage that turned a night of fun into one of boos. The next week, his odd left-handed lob on fourth-and-1 at Seattle was intercepted in the end zone.
All the while, McDaniels kept insisting Orton was doing just fine and would stay the starter.
“It was really the first time that I ever had that,” Orton said of his head coach’s unflinching support.
“I know there was a lot made out of our first preseason game and everything. Just looking back, I’m happy that he stuck with me and had confidence in me. That obviously does a lot for a quarterback.”
Orton cares what McDaniels thinks, but he insisted his reputation nationally doesn’t matter to him at all.
“Not one bit, nope,” he said.
Orton heard the catcalls and radio calls in Chicago, where he was derided as a “game manager,” a term he actually embraces, and much, much worse.
“Yeah, it’s tough not to be aware of it. Especially in a town like Chicago, you’re going to know,” Orton said. “But if they’re talking good or talking bad, I don’t think they’ve got a very good idea of what my job actually is. So, it doesn’t bother me one way or another.”
Orton had to learn an entirely new offense in Denver, where McDaniels’ game plan changes radically week to week.
“It was a lot of work. It’s the most that I’ve worked in the offseason,” Orton said. “I think the trade happened on Thursday afternoon and since that Friday morning, I haven’t really stopped putting myself in the playbook.”
Orton said he has a long way to go to master this offense but on the old thinking vs. instinct spectrum, he’s closer to being able to simply react to what defenses do, and for that he credits the hard work of those around him.
“I’ve never been around a team that practices so hard on those days and spends so much time on the field,” Orton said. “The benefits are paying off right now.”