Are the Denver Broncos finally back?
The Broncos have opened up the 2021 NFL season 3-0 for the first time since 2016 before losing Sunday 23-7 to the Baltimore Ravens.
Teddy Bridgewater and company have given Broncos fans hope for the first time in a very long time. I was 15 when the Broncos went 3-0 for the first time. Since first grade, I’ve been a die-hard fan. Like every other die-hard fan in the organization, I’ve experienced the highs and lows of this franchise pretty much my whole life. But no low has ever been more painful than how the organization has performed the last five years. They have been disgraceful for Broncos fans across the country.
To put into perspective, Denver has won three Super Bowls, eight AFC championships and have made the playoffs 22 times in their history. In the early 2010s, Denver was a powerhouse in the NFL. Led by Quarterback Peyton Manning, the Broncos made it to two Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl L, and broke many records along the way. The Denver Broncos were good at football. Peyton Manning retired after Super Bowl L, and the team fell apart. What happened so fast changed the franchise so quickly from champions to the bottom of the league with the Jets? The answer, the quarterback.
Before the start of the 2016 NFL season, John Elway, the president of football operations for the Broncos, made it his goal to find the next franchise’s quarterback after Manning’s retirement. Denver traded up in the first round of the NFL draft to select Paxton Lynch out of Memphis.
Denver thought they had their young QB of th e future; John Elway’s quoted saying, “We’re really excited that he can come in, compete for the job and is going to be here and have a great career with the Denver Broncos for a long, long time.”
Boy were they wrong. Lynch never got settled in and was out of the league in three years. Lynch is now considered one of the worst busts in franchise history. At the beginning of the 2016 NFL season, Denver started 3-0. The Broncos didn’t start their first-round pick at QB but instead started Trevor Sieman, a young rookie 7th round QB from Northwestern. The defense was the team’s strong point; the famous “No-fly zone” was back.
The leaders of the team were outside linebacker Von Miller, cornerback Chris Harris Jr., and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. In the first ten games, Denver’s record was 7-3. The Broncos were primed to return to the playoffs, but the squad crumbled following a heartbreaking loss at home to bitter divisional foe Kansas City on Sunday Night Football. The team couldn’t recover and ended the season with a 9-7 record and missed the playoffs. Since then, the organization hasn’t been the same.
The next season Gary Kubiak, the head coach for the Super Bowl-winning team, retired unexpectedly due to heart complications. His retirement was devastating to the team. Kubiak was the brains behind their Super Bowl run. He ran an efficient offense with a solid run game. His retirement would hurt even more after who they hired , Vance Joseph. The Joseph era was horrible from the start; the team had no structure, the offense was worse than ever, and the defense wasn’t that same “No-fly zone” it used to be. The team was awful and finished the season 5-11, the worst season since 2010. After the 2017 season was over, Denver went into rebuilding mode and desperately needed a QB. Trevor Sieman wasn’t the answer, and the 2018 NFL Draft was praised highly for the possible QB talent. Denver had the 5th pick in the NFL draft and shockingly didn’t select a Quarterback. They instead chose outside linebacker Bradley Chubb out of North Carolina State University, a solid vet who has been a consistent starter for them. Still, two picks later, star QB Josh Allen was picked by the Buffalo Bills. Why management didn’t feel the need to choose a QB will always be a mystery to me and all of Broncos Country. Denver would start the 2018 season with Case Keenum, a veteran QB who had just revitalized his career with a legendary season with the Minnesota Vikings. Denver signed him for only two years, so he wasn’t seen as the long-term solution.
As QB for the Broncos, Keenum was subpar in his only year as a starter finishing 6-10, and Denver would eventually trade him after the season for a 6th round draft pick. At the start of the offseason, Denver decided to trade for “still an elite Quarterback,” Joe Flacco from the Baltimore Ravens. That same offseason, Denver would select a young GunSlinger out of Missouri, Drew Lock, in the second round of the NFL draft. Flacco started eight games for Denver that season, finishing 2-6 while throwing as many touchdowns as interceptions. Watching Flacco be Quarterback those weeks made me sick to my stomach. The “elite” quarterback couldn’t even throw the ball 20 yards down the field. Flacco got hurt in a Week 8 loss in Indianapolis. Flacco, after the game, criticized management for not being aggressive enough, ironic because they started to win after he got hurt. Denver’s season was looking dim; they were 3-8 and looking for a spark to end their season, and felt now was the time to give their second-round Rookie QB Drew Lock a chance. Lock looked solid in his five starts going 4-1 and bringing hope to Broncos Country that maybe they had found their quarterback. They didn’t.
Denver started the next season as potential playoffs contenders. They didn’t live up to that hype. The team started slow, losing their first three games. Drew Lock was making rookie mistakes that he didn’t make the previous year before. He threw the ball into tight coverage constantly, wasn’t going through his progression, and made head-scratching throws. The biggest gut-punch of that year was in week 15 when Josh Allen and the Bills came to Denver and dominated us in every aspect of the game-winning 48-19. The next season was a brutal wake-up call to the Broncos organization that something had to be changed. John Elway demoted himself from President of Player of Operations to a lesser role and hired a new General Manager, George Paton. Paton’s first move was to find this team a Quarterback. He traded a 6th round pick to Carolina for Teddy Bridgewater to compete against Drew Lock. Denver has gone through 11 starting NFL quarterbacks since Manning retired.
Denver went into that offseason a new team with Paton. The NFL draft was a massive opportunity for us. The draft was once again highly praised for the number of talented QB’s it had. We again didn’t select one, which of course, could haunt us again. We instead picked the number one rated Cornerback in the Patrick Sultan II to help with pass coverage. That pick looks to have been the right move so far. The Broncos secondary looks like the old “No-Fly Zone.” The offense has been revitalized by a collection of young talented players, with Teddy Bridgwater, who hasn’t thrown an interception this season yet.
Barring injuries, this team has a chance, and so far, they have played up to that potential going 3-0. However, Denver has played a very weak schedule so far. This year, their first three opponents all have a combined record of 0-9, so is this a fluke? Are the Broncos for real? Is this be another year where I inevitably get my hopes up? Only time can tell, but the homer in me believes this is the year we can make the playoffs and possibly go on a run. So far, it looks great. Bridgewater has the third-best QB rating in the League, The defense is second in yards allowed per game, and the young talented wide receiver Cortland Sutton looks to be living up to his nickname of “baby Megatron.” Denver plays their first test of the season this week against star QB Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. My score prediction is 27-17 Denver, and we finally put the league on notice that the Denver Broncos are finally back. Something all Broncos fans have waited a long time to hear.