At 3-0, Broncos still have a long way to go
September 23, 2008
DENVER ” Three years ago, with Denver coming off an AFC Championship appearance and Brandon Marshall entering the league, he sought advice on his first day at Dove Valley from then-captain Al Wilson.
“I was asking him about what it takes to get to the Super Bowl,” Marshall recalled. “And he said, ‘It takes a little luck, and a healthy team.’ These past two weeks, we’ve definitely had the ball bouncing our way.”
A Hochulian effort against San Diego was followed by a Herculean one against New Orleans.
The Broncos improved to 3-0 with their 34-32 victory against the Saints on Sunday.
All it took was another quick offensive start, a well-timed goal-line stop, withstanding a 502-yard onslaught, overcoming a critical turnover on a drive that might have sealed the game inside 6 minutes and a veteran kicker missing wide right with 2 minutes left.
“Someone’s living right in that locker room,” quarterback Jay Cutler marveled afterward.
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Actually, Denver’s been down this path before in the not-so-distant past.
A last-second rush onto the field for a game-winning field goal started the 2007 season in Buffalo. A timeout to freeze Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski followed in Week 2 before his second attempt missed. The good fortune last September didn’t last.
Denver followed with three straight losses and tumbled out of contention.
Now, here they are again, full of swagger and a schedule that has the Broncos headed to Kansas City next week to face an 0-3 Chiefs team that’s down on its luck.
“I feel like we’ve started some stuff right now and have the tools to finish it,” Broncos running back Selvin Young said. “That’s the good thing about it, being the beginning of the season. Teams are going to the drawing board with losses. We’re going back to the drawing board with wins.”
In an ironic twist, a two-point conversion ” missed by New Orleans with 10 minutes remaining following the Saints’ fourth TD in seven possessions ” ended up being the difference this week for Denver.
Just a week earlier, a mistaken whistle by referee Ed Hochuli gave the Broncos second life on what should have been a Cutler fumble late in the game.
The non-fumble allowed Denver to not only score but go for two after a late touchdown in what was hailed nationally as a gutsy move by Denver coach Mike Shanahan.
The difference Sunday was that the opponent would get the ball back with plenty of time, trailing, to drive to the winning points.
The Saints (1-2) got the ball back with 5 1/2 minutes left after a fumble by Denver’s Tony Scheffler at the Broncos 8 as Denver looked for the clinching points.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees (39-of-48, 421 yards, one TD) hit consecutive long completions to move New Orleans into Broncos territory. But on third-and-1, Saints running back Pierre Thomas was stuffed by D.J. Williams, sending veteran Martin Gramatica out for a 43-yard field goal attempt at the 2-minute warning.
“I was hoping he’d miss,” said Broncos running back Michael Pittman, a teammate of Gramatica’s with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where the kicker went to the Pro Bowl, a Super Bowl and is that franchise’s all-time leading scorer. “Everybody’s human and makes mistakes.”
Gramatica’s kick sailed wide right.
A Denver three-and-out left the Saints with only 8 seconds.
Even a Broncos defense that allowed 502 yards and 27 points after the second quarter couldn’t blow that one.
“We’re in a good spot,” Broncos receiver Brandon Stokley said.
“We’ve won two games where, at the end, it could have gone either way. But that’s what good teams do. They find a way to win.”
The Broncos hold a two-game lead in the AFC West, and seven of the past eight times Denver started the year 3-0 they at least made the playoffs.
“We do have to tighten some things up because we can’t keep doing this,” said Cutler, who threw for 264 yards and two TDs but spearheaded an offense that nonetheless left points on the field in the red zone and with a couple of critical turnovers. “I mean, we’re getting lucky toward the end, a little bit.”
The late theatrics for a second straight week didn’t look to be necessary after touchdown catches by Nate Jackson and Marshall and a Nate Webster fumble return for a score built a 21-3 Denver lead in the first quarter.
But coasting to a victory apparently is too blase for this group, which has lived, and not died, based on tension.
“I don’t know what it is,” Denver cornerback Dre Bly said. “But I hope that angel stays on our shoulder.”
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