Jan 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Confetti falls as Denver Broncos players celebrate with the Lamar Hunt trophy after defeating the New England Patriots during the 2013 AFC Championship football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Good, The Great, and the AFC Champs: Denver Broncos' AFC Championship Recap

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“Start spreadin’ the news!!!”…HURRY, HURRY…we’re leavin in six days…OMAHA, OMAHA…we’re gonna be a part of it SUPER BOWL, SUPER BOWL!!! (Thanks ‘Ol Blue Eyes!)

For the first time since I have been writing for PredominantlyOrange.com, I have no witty, sarcastic, or some display of cynicism to lighten the mood between you, my loyal readers, and me, your humble author. Whelp…there goes that theory. I’m back! Truth is, for over two hours after Denver Broncos’ quarterback, Peyton Manning took a final knee to punch their ticket to the swamps of Jersey for Super Bowl XLVIII, I was still a little comfortably numb. And this feeling has nothing to do with any product that might now be legally peddled in our beloved Colorado. So I had to put down the keyboard, slowly back away, and come back this morning as to not let my emotional state pen a bunch of unintelligible drivel. 

It has been 15 years since we Broncoholics have felt the kind of euphoria that winning an AFC Championship and preparing for a Super Bowl creates (not even the day Peyton signed on the dotted line). On Championship Sunday, the Broncos and PFM cleared another hurdle and beat the New England Patriots and Tom Brady, 26-16 for the right to face the Seattle Seahawks for its third Vince Lombardi Trophy. This is what I took away from the AFC Title game. 

The Good: Everything…next question! Seriously, Peyton was truly Peyton again today, but what was most encouraging was the overall balance on offense. Manning went 32-43 for 400 yards, 2 touchdowns, and ZERO interceptions. It was far and away Peyton’s best championship game performance…and he saved it for us. This was not the case of PFM playing pitch-and-catch with one really hot receiver on the day. This may have been a display of the most generous ball distribution in recent playoff history. While wide receiver, Demaryius Thomas posted the biggest numbers on the day (7 receptions for 134 yards and one score), every one of PFM’s weapons got a piece of the action. Julius Thomas (8/85), Eric Decker (5/73), Wes Welker (4/38 and one important crossing rub…but I’ll get to that later), Jacob Tamme (2/24/1), Knowshon Moreno (2/22), Montee Ball (3/13), and even Andre’ Caldwell (1/11) were the beneficiaries of a great offensive game play. 

The running game again was very effective. Denver is infusing enough of it to keep opposing defenses off-balance which has been on display throughout the post season. On Sunday, Moreno rushed 14 times for 59 yards; including a huge 28 yard run in the second quarter on 3rd and 10 from the Patriots 39 yard line which eventually led to Tamme’s 1 yard TD reception. Montee Ball grabbed the bulk of the carries once Knowshon went out of the game with a rib injury (the good news is the x-rays have come back negative). The biggest carry in Montee’s short career was, on paper a pedestrian 5-yard jaunt. However, what the statistic doesn’t tell you is that it took place on 4th and 2, with 1:19 left in the game. That carry effectively ended the game as the Broncos went into victory formation. Which if there was a negative in the game, it was Peyton’s -1 yard rushing because of taking two knees. BWAAAHAAAHAA…I’m only kidding (I’ll be here all week. Try the veal and don’t forget to tip your wait staff). 

Ball control was the intended consequence of a balanced attack. For the second straight week, the Broncos’ offense gave a big lift to its defense by holding onto the rock for over 35 minutes. I know I am stating the obvious, but the other team simply cannot score if they don’t have the ball. And when Tom Brady is on the other side of the ball, it is imperative to keep him off the field. It is this kind of symmetry between the two units that make the orange and blue a very difficult team to beat. 

All year-long, I have been decrying ball security. This is not anything that the Broncos’ coaching staff doesn’t already know. However, they practiced what I have been preaching. Not only did they not turn the ball over, they didn’t even put it on the ground. Unlike in the divisional playoffs against San Diego, where the Chargers secondary dropped two interceptions, there was nothing even close to giving the Pats additional possessions. Actually, there was one out pattern thrown to Decker along the Patriots sideline that hung in the air a little too long and probably should have been picked. I imagine that a great Seahawks secondary would not squander that opportunity. That said, it was a great job to stay focused, disciplined, and committed to protecting the ball.

Jack Del Rio‘s defense, what can I say! While the performance did not take on the dominant look of the 1975 Steelers or the 46 defense of the ’85 Bears, this unit was stout. They did not pressure Brady a lot, but it did when it mattered most. Robert Ayers sacked Brady on 3rd and 8 from the Broncos 18 for an 11 yard loss that forced the Patriots to settle for a Stephen Gostkowski 47 yard field goal. So instead of New England pulling to within 10-7, it was only 10-3; which had to be a huge psychological lift for the whole team. The second sack was provided by – who in my estimation is the defensive MVP in the playoffs so far – Terrence Knighton. “Pot Roast” (the greatest nickname in the NFL today) corralled Brady on 4th and 2 from the Broncos 29, with 2:30 left in the third quarter…and did it against second team All-Pro guard, Logan Mankins. With the historic proclivity of the Brady/Belichick era offenses to convert on 4th down, Knighton’s play in effect, pretty much sealed the deal. 

<<A.D.D. moment>>

How about Dave Logan’s call on 850 KOA on this play;

 
 “POT ROAST ALL DAY LONG!”
followed by his broadcast partner, Eddie McCaffery’s,
 
 
“DINNER IS SERVED!”
 

Danny Trevathan did not get a sack or a turnover, but was probably the best defensive player on the field Sunday for the Broncos as he made 8 solo tackles. Nobody flew around on defense all day, on either side like Trevathan. In fact, the front seven as a whole had a great day. New England running back, LaGarret Blount (insert CO legalization pot joke here), who rushed for 161 yards last week in the divisional round against the Indianapolis Colts, was held to a team low 6 yards on 5 carries. In fact, the front seven held a Patriots team, who had been playing the part of the ’72/’73 Dolphins backfield in the past few weeks, to 64 yards on 16 carries. 

Special teams lived up to its name. Matt Prater was every bit as responsible for leading the Broncos to the AFC Title as anybody sporting the orange and blue. Prater accounted for 14 of the 26 points yesterday (4 FGs and 2 PATs). Additionally, he gave New England absolutely no chance to change field position and grab momentum on kick returns. He blasted every one of his kickoffs out of the endzone. 

In the return game, Trindon Holliday and Eric Decker secured the two most important kickoffs of the day. Holliday on the pooch kick attempt at 23-10, following the Patriots’ first touchdown. Decker, who fumbled an onside kick last week against San Diego, procured the ball and the Broncos possession on the onside attempt at 26-16 with 3:07 following New England’s last score of the game. The Pats would not possess the ball again.

The importance of special teams is often lost on many when previewing or recapping a game unless it’s negative analysis. Well I’m all about giving credit where it is due and the Special teams not only didn’t make any costly mistakes, it was an important contributing factor to the win. 

The game plan was flawless in all three phases of the game. A lot was made of John Fox‘s and Del Rio’s respective losing records against Belichik. The pre-game analysis by the “experts” spoke of how coaching was a big advantage for the Patriots. Such was not the case, though. Along with the highly sought-after offensive coordinator, Adam Gase, Fox and Del Rio put together a game plan for which The Hoodie, offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, nor defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia had any answer. 

The Great: See “The Good”. Seriously, no surprise that it’s Peyton Manning. I was all set to do an article about how ridiculous this media narrative about PFM’s “legacy” was in question. This was nothing more than a media construct to give the talking heads something to debate (or in some cases, take a shot at Manning). Anybody who calls Manning’s legacy or greatness into question is not only intellectually dishonest, but flat-out envious. I can go on about this but the bottom line is, at the age of 37 and after 4 neck surgeries, PFM had his best season (of many great season) whereby he broke all sorts of records and had his best AFC Championship performance. He not only has unquestionable statistics, but has post season pedigree that even with a loss on Sunday, still could not be called into question in my not-so-humble opinion. 

(Not So) Quick Hitters: I have always had respect for Bill Belichik. Despite the accusations of cheating, and they may be well-founded, it is undeniable that he is one of the greatest football minds ever. That said, SHUT UP, HOODIE! In the post-game presser, you had no problem with Wes Welker’s pick play. Today you wake up and the guy you didn’t want to pay last off-season (because you felt he was soft) is now some sort of bush-league hit man. And wasn’t it the same exact thing that Julian Edleman did to Dominique Rodgers-Cromarte on your previous offensive series? That’s complete bullschtein!! Get over it! You lost, you were out-coached, and Welker proved you wrong. This loss doesn’t make you look bad, your bitterness does!

After 15 hall-of-fame years in the league, Champ Bailey is finally going to play on the sport’s biggest stage. Bailey, as much as any member of the Broncos (with the exception of John Fox) has persevered through more adversity in 2013. He spent most of the season on the injured list with a bad foot. When he tried to come back against Jacksonville (week 6), Indianapolis (week 7), and Kansas City (Week 13), he only re-injured the foot. When he was finally fit enough to play with confidence, he accepted his relegation to nickel back. That said, Champ kept it all in perspective. 

“This is what it’s all about, get yourself a chance to get in the big one,” Bailey said. “That’s where we are now. I knew I would come back — you might not have known — but I knew I’d be back at some point. My coaches and teammates never gave up on me. And here I am, playing my best football of the year. I’m just looking forward to the next one, man.”

Knowshon Moreno, in his 5th season, has been arguably the most important player on offense this year not named Manning. Well the Belford, N.J. native has the opportunity to take his talents back home and play in this country’s biggest sporting event. I only hope that he can stay focused on the task at hand. It would be tough to hold it against him if he didn’t.

Brady and Belichik started their post-season time together on a 10-0 run before losing in the divisional round of the 2005 playoffs against, you guessed it, the Denver Broncos. However in all the talk about Peyton Manning’s playoff history, since that 10-0 run, the Patriots have gone 8-8 in their last 16 playoff games while the Broncos have a 9-7 mark in that same span. 

This will be the Broncos’ 7th Super Bowl appearance, tying New England for second all time. Only the Steelers and Cowboys (8) have appeared in the big game more often. 

Next Game Up: To put my own spin on Bruce Springsteen’s classic, “Rosalita”, Well Brady got sacked, and our bags are packed for a business trip, Lord have mercy..and our machine is fine tuned and we’re off to, the super bowl in the swamps of Jersey. It may be a stretch but it works for me. On Groundhogs Day, Sunday, February 2nd Our Broncos take on the NFC Champions, Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XVLIII. Fox has the call with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. Kickoff is set for 4:20 Elway Standard Time. 

If I am dreaming, please don’t wake me up.

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Tags: Afc Championship Denver Brocnos Peyton Manning Super Bowl XLVIII

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