DENVER — Last time we saw San Diego Chargers quarterback Drew Brees in Denver was mid-summer at Coors Field.
Chargers assistant coach John Pagano used a contact he had within the Colorado Rockies to set Brees up for some batting practice with the major leaguers. Brees is no slouch athlete, but, still, it took him several swings to park one. Fortunately he had a patient pitcher in Rockies manager Clint Hurdle who gladly served up one after another until the Chargers quarterback finally yanked one over the fence and into the right-field seats.
When it came to Brees on Sunday, the Denver Broncos seemed like they considered taking a similar approach.
Their bend-and-then-break defense in the first half let Brees have his chances, and then some more chances, that he gladly took to steer his team to a 14-3 lead. The Chargers totaled 172 yards on 22 plays in the first two quarters and, if the game had ended at that point, we can safely assume Brees would not have needed a shower to remove any grime that might have clung to his untouched body.
He used more energy trying to hit one out of Coors.
But football games are tricky things sometimes and despite all the problems evident in the 2005 Denver Broncos at this particular moment, their defense was good enough in the second half Sunday to mask myriad blemishes and bail Denver out. And, at least, this morning the Broncos aren’t the Chargers, the defending AFC West champs that are moping around today at 0-2 and trying to ignore dubious statistics that say winless starts doom teams to no playoffs, to no success.
For this, the Broncos should be thankful.
“We have to win the division games at home, we have to find a way to do it,” said Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who called the victory gutsy because, obviously, he couldn’t call it pretty.
Denver’s offense will scare no one. The red zone remains as mysterious as the Twilight Zone (1-for-3 with a fumble on the 2). After converting its first four third-downs Sunday — remember last week’s 1-for-12 on third down — the Broncos went 2-for-12 the rest of the afternoon. Rarely did the Broncos even try to stretch the field on offense. They relied on short passes and head-banging runs. The Broncos need playmakers, that’s clear two games into 2005.
And then there’s the defense. After letting Brees swing for the fences in the first half, the Broncos attacked him in the second half with a what-the-heck attitude a team usually relegates itself to when all else fails. This, only six quarters into the season.
“Larry kind of opened up the playbook a little more in the second half,” Broncos linebacker Al Wilson said about defensive coordinator Larry Coyer. “He said if we’re going to lose, we’re going to lose fighting. We’re not going to lose sitting back.
We definitely got after them in the second half.”
The result was Denver held San Diego to 41 yards after the break. Denver sacked Brees four times after halftime and pressured him plenty. The Broncos forced two turnovers. One, an interception by Champ Bailey on the third quarter’s first play from scrimmage, set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Bailey confessed after the game that he improvised on the play, jumping a route on which his job was to play deep. He fooled Brees. He fooled everyone.
Defensive tackle Gerard Warren said the Broncos did not necessarily blitz much more after halftime. He said they just wanted to force Brees to move, to not get as cozy as a hitter in a batter’s box who knows what pitch is coming. Bailey asserted something similar.
“It was just all about us getting going,” he said. “There was nothing they were doing to make us not get a good pass rush and not cover those receivers. All we had to do was play and we’d be fine.”
Fine. But the Broncos awake today a shaky 1-1. This is not a team that will win many more if it waits until the third quarter to play with urgency.