To be the Man, You Gotta Beat the Man


Nov 2, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman (23) runs the ball for a touchdown against the New England Patriots during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Last Sunday the Denver Broncos were handed their biggest shellacking since the Super Bowl. Apparently, the Broncos like giving up exactly 43 points in their meltdowns.

It’s certainly frustrating to everyone who watches this team every week. It’s not fun when the Broncos get blown out – which, to be fair, is a rare occurrence – and not be able to watch ESPN for the next couple days.

A couple weeks ago, I dubbed the Broncos as the best team in the NFL after they beat down the San Francisco 49ers 42-17. You know, the same 49ers that just lost at home to the 3-5 St. Louis Rams. The same 49ers who have been playing without Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman, and Aldon Smith for weeks now. The 49ers aren’t who we thought they were, and apparently, neither are the Broncos right now.

I’m sure a lot of fans were encouraged that the players showed this kind of emotion after getting their lunch handed to them. Fans knowing the players care just as much as they do after an embarrassing loss is important to them.

But that’s not enough for me. The team being angry in the locker room after that kind of loss should be a given. I’m not sure how it’s humanly possible to not be upset after get spanked in an environment like that after you had more days to prepare than your opponent. The only thing that matters is how the Broncos respond on the field from here on out.

After the game, I tweeted this:

Sure, there are individuals on the team that play with an extra big chip on their shoulder, including, but not exclusive to guys like Emmanuel Sanders, Chris Harris, and T.J. Ward. However, that’s not really the Broncos’ style; it’s just not how they operate, and it extends to the way John Fox carries himself, which is with respect and class.

I’m not saying this is a big negative. However, the Broncos have had trouble beating good teams away from Mile High since Peyton Manning got here. Since 2012, they’ve lost on the road to Atlanta, New England, Indianapolis, New England (again), Seattle (Super Bowl), Seattle (in Seattle this time), and New England (again? Really?).

I get it, beating good teams on the road is hard. But I just take a look at what’s happened the last few weeks and I see the Chiefs beating the Chargers in San Diego and the Redskins and Cardinals winning in Dallas. Sure, Tom Brady hasn’t lost to an AFC foe since 2006, but stat means very little to me. Going 0-3 in Foxboro the last three years is not a good thing. You know what the playing conditions are like. You know who the opponent is. You had more days to prepare. To get beat down like you did is the last thing anyone in the world expected.

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Beating good teams on the road is a good way to show how mentally tough a team is. Right now, unfortunately, I still have questions about how mentally tough the Broncos really are. They can deny it all they want, but the real proof will be on the field from here on out.

The Broncos are a great team – a great one. They’ve broken countless records over the past few years. They’ve sent multiple guys on both sides of the ball to the Pro Bowl. The issues we find with the Broncos are almost nothing compared to what bottom-dweller teams and their fans have to deal with on a week-to-week basis. But sometimes it just feels like there’s a ceiling on this team, which shouldn’t even be conceivable on a team loaded with quality talent headed by a quarterback like Peyton Manning.

The Broncos can prove me wrong about their lack of mental toughness. Beat the stuffing out of the Raiders in the black hole this Sunday. Do the same to Kansas City when you make the trip to Arrowhead in late November. Leave no doubt that the Bengals aren’t even in the same league as you when you visit them in Cincinnati (with yours truly in attendance).

Like Ric Flair said, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” The Broncos will most likely have to do this when they make another trip up to Foxboro in the playoffs for Manning v. Brady Part 17.