Peyton Manning arrived three years ago and delivered two number one playoff seeds and a number two seed. The Broncos are coming off a Super Bowl season a year ago. They have lost one game in three years of absolutely dominating the AFC West. And yet, a massive chorus from fans in the Mile High City is calling for the quarterback to retire. Of the Four Horsemen, Manning is by far the easiest to forgive. Life without a quality QB in the NFL is poor, brutish, and short. People are mad the Broncos didn't win a ring any of the last three years, so I can't imagine what they'll be like if Peyton is gone and we quickly drop to being the third best team in the Division without playoff appearances at all. Many don't want to hear about Manning's quad injury citing it as a meaningless factoid or excuse which doesn't merit consideration. In reality, it's likely to be the largest contributing factor in Peyton going from being considered one of the games elite and a fantasy football dynamo to being considered a washed up bust all in the matter of the Broncos final six games. How about psychotic fans leave and Manning stays?
John Fox was so right when he was hired, if for no other reason, because he wasn't Josh McDaniels. Josh wore a hoody with cut off sleaves like Belichick. He showed a disregard for loyalty to veteran players just like Belichick has with everyone not named Tom Brady. He cheated with film just like Belichick did. And yet, he was no Bill Belichick. The players like Fox and trust returned to the locker room and the front office. Fox coolly survived the coming and going of Tebow-mania and greatly assisted in landing Mike McCoy his first head coaching job. With Manning, Fox generated fantastic results right up until the Broncos three playoff ousters, but that's exactly where the good news ends. In the Ravens game in January 2013, the Broncos should have taken Peyton back onto the field to attempt a post Rahim Moore brainfart drive to Prater's incredibly long field goal range. That was strike one. In the Super Bowl last year, the Broncos simply looked unprepared and while Peyton ate the "not a great playoff QB burritos" that everyone in the media was serving up, it was Fox who ultimately failed that team the most. That was strike two. And yesterday when the Broncos players, who seem to love Fox, just quit on the field, that was strike three. This guy doesn't finish last. He finishes sixth to last or second to last, and he finally has struck out.
Jack Del Rio has been a head coach in this league. He was a long time tease to make a splash with tough nosed Jags teams that could never quite make a name for themselves in a Division with the Colts and Titans. He was a head coach again when John Fox needed to temporarily leave the game for medical reasons. His defenses in Denver haven't been perfect, but in most games they've been good enough. In spite of the massive point total for Seattle in the Super Bowl, his unit was actually the highlight for Broncos fans as they gave the offense chance after chance to stay in the game during the first half. Yesterday, the Broncos just needed two things. The deep and talented secondary needed to lock down and underwhelming receiving core and the Broncos pass rush needed to get to Luck. Neither of these things happened and Del Rio never dialed up more pressure. And with that, Jack can go where the grass will never be greener in Oakland to get another head coaching chance. Thanks for all you've done. Now hit the road Jack.
John Elway is immortal in Denver as its greatest sports hero. When he came into the Broncos front office, booted Tebow, and went to work on assembling the greatest free agents that capped money can buy, it was clear the Broncos had a chance at greatness. The pickups of Manning, Rodgers-Cromartie, Sanders, Talib, and Ware were huge swings that have worked well overall. The draft has generally been a mess. Now the Broncos are entering a summer full of uncertainty with questions about Manning's return, a free agent Demaryius Thomas, a free agent Julius Thomas, and an offensive line that has often been offensive to watch this year. The job that Elway has done has earned him a lot of good will and trust and he'll need to cash that in during 2015 to keep hope of this generation of Broncos bringing home a Lombardi Trophy alive. The good news is that John is one of us, so giving him more time is a no brainer. The bad news is that John is one of us, so if at some point he does need to go it will require an anesthesiologist to help everyone cope with the trauma. Of course Johnny Ballgame stays.
This will be an off-season of change, as well it should be. The disappointments of the recent playoff losses may seem like the end of the world to fans with lofty expectations, but it's silly to overlook the incredible joy of three straight seasons of general dominance. In jest I call this fan reaction an apocalypse, but the sun will rise again and cast orange on our blue sky. The next season is bright with some new coaching blood undoubtedly on the way and return of Manning who ages like a fine wine in spite of incessant whining and bellyaching of fans this past month.