After a three game losing skid that followed a miraculous winning streak by the Denver Broncos, the critics who had been silenced the previous six weeks made themselves heard again when analyzing the Broncos season and how they made the playoffs.
“They backed into it. A playoff spot just landed in their laps. They don’t deserve to be there.”
Granted, the Broncos did everything but enter the NFL postseason with a full head of steam. After winning six straight games, they lost their final three games of the regular season. With the Oakland Raiders losing their last game to the San Diego Chargers, the Broncos were able to win the AFC West division and earn a spot in the playoffs thanks to the tie-breakers held over Oakland and San Diego, who along with Denver, finished their seasons with 8-8 records, respectively.
It certainly wasn’t the way the Broncos wanted to enter their first appearance in the playoffs since 2005. They had the worst record of the remaining teams, and had the most to improve if they wanted to advance past the first round. Their offense had been stale with no signs of a passing game and their once strong defense was suddenly suspect. They had been outscored 40-88 in their previous three losses, and they had to find a solution fast, because ready or not, the Pittsburgh Steelers were coming to town.
With the cards stacked against them and believers who had supported the team earlier in the year dwindling by the second, the Broncos entered the AFC Wildcard Game against the Steelers without much confidence from anyone but themselves that a win was even possible.
“The Broncos have no chance against the Steelers. None.”
But then, something happened. They won. They beat the defending AFC Champions. They beat one of the teams that played in last year’s Super Bowl. They, who won only four games the previous season, who was led by a controversial and unconventional quarterback with less than a full season of NFL starts to his name, who had a head coach that was believed by some to have a coaching style that was outdated, and had a defense that was among the leagues worst last year, defeated the always credible and seldom criticized Pittsburgh Steelers.
Sounds remarkable. But with the 2011-12 edition of the Denver Broncos, it has pretty much been the norm. Winning games they weren’t supposed to in dramatic fashion has become a staple of the franchise this season. A team that was widely believed to, at best, only improve a little over last year’s poor showing, not only made it to the playoffs, but defeated a team that is always in the discussion to be the AFC representative in each year’s Super Bowl. How can this be, since they weren’t good enough to be in the playoffs in the first place?
Despite the finish to their 2011 regular season, the Broncos are showing that they belong in this year’s NFL playoffs with the best of the best. They were predicted to make an early exit, but their unconventional style of offense and a much improved defense has kept them in the running for the Super Bowl for at least another week. It is seldom pretty, but the Broncos are competitive. Expert analyst and arm-chair quarterbacks alike can’t seem to put their finger on what the Broncos really are and how what they’re doing is working, but it is. They should get blown out in almost every game they play, but like that famous poster with a kitten on a tree limb, they hang in there. Then when it’s time to go, they go, and usually win the game.
The Broncos showed in the first round of the playoffs, as well as in many games this season, that if you were to predict each game’s winner by just what you see on paper, you would pick against them more often than not. They’re proving that you shouldn’t always believe what you read.
“I don’t understand how they keep doing it. It’s mind-boggling.”
It’s perhaps best not to understand it. Just write the 2011-12 Denver Broncos alongside space aliens and Bigfoot under the heading “Things that are probably better left unknown” and be done with it. It’s a sequence of events that may never be seen again, so just sit back and watch history in the making. And if you’re a Broncos fan, just enjoy it.
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