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Mile High Expectations

More than 48 hours after the Denver Broncos hit a Rocky Mountain Low, the Broncos and their faithful are still trying to shake off the cobwebs after being blindsided by the upset the Baltimore Ravens pulled off Saturday in double overtime at Sports Authority Field.

[adinserter name=”366 left”]After the game, fans and media members had many questions as to how this monumental collapse, hiccup, choke or however you wanted to label it happened to what seemed like a dominant and complete Denver Broncos team. The offseason acquisition of Peyton Manning in what was the equivalent of winning the free agency Powerball set the stage for the organization and fans alike to expect an improvement to a club that went 8-8 and won a home playoff game with Tim Tebow at quarterback. Surely having a future hall of famer, a SuperBowl winner and arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game behind center would make the Broncos not only repeat playoff contenders but vault them up to Super Bowl contenders along with the Patriots and 49ers.

I venture to say that the Denver Broncos did not choke against the Ravens but rather overachieved this season and gave the organization and fans promise for the next two to three seasons. Peyton Manning made his return from multiple neck surgeries and a full season of inactivity to typical Manning form during the regular season. Manning not only legitimized this Broncos offense that was stagnant a season ago, he changed the culture of the whole team and they responded with a different attitude. No longer were the Broncos hoping to overcome deficiencies on offense and wait for miracles like last season, this team believed they could beat anyone and that they were one of the elite teams in the league.

Looking at the 2012 rankings the Broncos seemed to be very well rounded on both sides of the football. Offensively with the addition of Manning the Broncos ranked fifth in the league in passing at just under 284 yards a game while their top rushing attack from a year ago was a modest 16th with 114 rushing yards a game. The latter statistic can be attributed to losing McGahee during the season and having to go with a running back by committee with former first round draft pick Knowshon Moreno and rookie Ronnie Hillman, neither who could be a viable threat to any team who fielded a half decent run defense. Defensively behind stud second year linebacker Von Miller, the defense improved upon last year’s strong performance as Jack Del Rio worked magic with this crew and ranked third in the league against the run and pass.

The Broncos benefited from a relatively easy schedule this season with no fault of their own. To their credit they beat everyone they were supposed to beat this season and stole a game in week 15 against the Ravens on the road. In five games played against teams who qualified for the playoffs this year the Broncos managed a 2-3 record with losses to the Texans, Falcons and Patriots early in the season. The Broncos survived an embarrassing first half performance against the Chargers in week 6 to recover and finish the season on a league high 11 game win streak.

Did that 11 games win streak set-up everyone in the Mile High City, the NFL, fans and media members to drink the orange and blue Kool-Aid and label the Broncos as odds on favorites to win the Super Bowl? I say yes as even Las Vegas odds makers bought into the hype by opening up the betting early in the week giving the Broncos -9pts against a Ravens team who seem to always pull off a road upset on a yearly basis in the playoffs. Denver sports radio hosts, newspaper writers and fans alike yapped their mouths all week on how the Ravens would get blown out again similar to the week 15, 34-17 humiliating home loss they suffered earlier to the Broncos. Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and the defense were just too old and couldn’t stop anyone was their reasoning. Add to that Joe Flacco hadn’t proved that he could lead his offense to score any points in the air and that Ray Rice would be shut down by the vaunted Denver defense. Finally Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense would impose their will and run and pass on the defense without any difficulties. How did that turn out for the Broncos?

Offensively the Broncos received a reality check. While both DeMaryus Thomas and Eric Decker had nice seasons, neither are in the caliber of top ten NFL receivers, nor could they be looked upon as a franchise receiver like Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, etc. Decker is very inconsistent and untrustworthy with his hands and Thomas, although with that huge frame, hardly has game breaking speed to create open lanes for Manning to throw to. The Denver tight ends were serviceable at best and the running game was average to say the least. Had the quarterback not been Peyton Manning, this offense would have been even worse than last season with no McGahee in the lineup for the latter half of the season.

Defensively the team was exposed to some heartbreaking news: Champ Bailey can no longer be regarded as one of the best corners in the game. Champ will no doubt be a first ballot hall of famer but he was out classed on several occasions by Torrey Smith who is a speedster wide receiver who made Champ look like he was 40 years old out on the field. On top of Champ Bailey being owned by Torrey Smith, you have Rahim Moore making arguably the worst defensive play in Denver Broncos history getting caught looking for an interception in the final minute of the 4th quarter up by seven. Rather than play deep cover 3 coverage and keeping everyone in front of him, Moore tried and failed miserably to get an interception and whiffed worse than any of the players the Colorado Rockies threw on the field this past spring.

[adinserter name=”366 right”]With all the decencies that were exposed by the Ravens this past Saturday the Broncos have many positives to build upon for the 2013 NFL season. Peyton Manning will have a year of familiarity with the offense and its personnel, free agency will be more pleasant with an angry and hungry hall of fame quarterback to attract players who want to play in a dynamic offense, aggressive defense and win the weakest division in the NFL. Fear not Mile High City, the opening act was just a taste of what is to come for this team. This story will end with a happy ending for all who stick around to see its finish.

Roberto is a Radio Personality for Denver’s Mile High Sports Radio AM1510/FM 93.7. Follow Roberto on twitter @RobertoDenver

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