Detonator in Denver

Yet another devastating loss for the Denver Broncos in prime time. The final score this past Sunday night was 41-16 in Sports Authority Field. Losing to the New England Patriots doesn’t seem all that bad considering how tough it is to take down the franchise dynasty of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, except for Denver this is the fifth loss in a row. Eyebrows are being raised as Denver, a team that was once considered to be a Super Bowl candidate this season, is now falling in to a pit that looks impossible for the team to climb out of. It begs the question for any Bronco fan out there right now: what exactly is going wrong?

Looking back in previous weeks the Denver Broncos started off the season strong. They got the win against the divisional rival Los Angeles Chargers in week one, then followed it by completely stomping the Dallas Cowboys with a 42-17 victory. Trevor Siemian had the best game of his career thus far, and the Broncos showed their top-notch rush defense by halting Ezekiel Elliot to a mere 9 yards total. At only week two of the regular season, rumors began to float that Denver might be the team to potentially go all the way with all things clicking the way they were. In week three, however, the rumors became a little puzzled as the Broncos chalked up a loss to the Buffalo Bills. In week four Denver beat the Oakland Raiders 16-10, which allowed them to go 2-0 among the division, and then followed up that win with surprising loss to the New York Giants. In fact, the only win that the Giants have been able to muster yet this season was against the Broncos. Ever since then, Denver has been skunked by the Chargers, beat down by the Chiefs, embarrassed by the Eagles, and was shown no mercy at the hands of the Patriots on Sunday Night FootballWhat happened to the team who was able to put up 40 points on the Dallas Cowboys? Or better yet, who is to blame for this mess?

It seems pretty easy to put blame on the quarterback play right now in Denver. Trevor Siemian got benched, only to be replaced by Brock Osweiler, who hasn’t exactly proven himself worthy as a starting QB either. Denver is averaging 15.6 points per game in the past five weeks. While that’s not absurdly low, it’s definitely not great coming after the Peyton Manning era. Special teams hasn’t been spectacular either, as Denver allowed the New England Patriots to score 17 points generating from a muffed punt, a blocked field goal, and allowing 103 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. With the offense struggling to get points on the board, along with a miserable special teams unit, Denver must rely on its defense to take charge and make the big plays to help out with field position. They have had a dominant rushing defense, stopping big play makers such as Zeke, LeSean McCoy, Melvin Gordon, and Kareem Hunt. Despite the impressive lock down in the run game, it appears that the No Fly Zone has departed and allowed teams to score with their deep pass threat. The past two weeks have been miserable for the rush defense as players such as Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Dion Lewis, and James White have all carved them up like turkeys.

The defense has become as unreliable as the offense now, and whether the team misses a play maker such as Manning, or a coordinator like Wade Phillips, it appears as though the blame has come down to John Elway. The same general manager who was praised for putting all the right pieces together to bring home the Lombardi Trophy in 2015 is now being heavily criticized for allowing such a pathetic season to unfold. Surely the two time winning Super Bowl MVP should be able to collaborate a better quarterback situation than a mediocre Trevor Siemian, and a Cleveland-bought Brock Osweiler. It may be quick to forget that the GM does not have the same job as coaching, but he does run the numbers in order to draft and acquire the right people in free agency. Perhaps it only shows proof that generating a winning team at a professional level in the NFL is much more difficult than anticipated. For John Elway this may create a lot of questions on what to do during this next off season. It will be interesting to see whether he decides to start from scratch and try to build a brand new team from the ground up, or if he continues going forward with his current team with some slight adjustments. Either way, something big needs to change in Denver for them to become relevant again. At 3-6 not only are the Broncos going to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row, but they’re also on the very bottom of the division. Rebuild mode might not seem like such a bad option after all.

Motivational Mediocrity

The story line was set up perfect for the Buffalo Bills to be successful on Thursday Night Football. Only a half-game behind the New England Patriots, they needed a win to potentially be in first place among the division once again. All the cards were in Buffalo’s favor — they were going in to week 9 with a 5-2 record, and their five wins weren’t just push overs. In week one they already beat the New York Jets, who were their opponent once again in week 9. Since then have continue to win over teams such as the Broncos, who the week prior had completely destroyed the fierce Dallas Cowboys. They upset the Atlanta Falcons while simultaneously snapping the Falcon’s win streak. They climbed over a lack luster Tampa Bay Buccaneers team last second to beat them by a field goal, only to reply the following week by steam rolling over the Oakland Raiders. Buffalo’s only losses coming in to week 9 came from the Carolina Panthers, who have been pretty hit or miss this season, and a very confusing loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. With their past set up, they came in to the Met Life stadium as the away team, and with one win already against the Jets. Considering that both teams are from New York, the travel time wasn’t a big deal for Buffalo. It was clear that the fans travel well with the team, as the cheers were loud and clear echoing throughout the stadium when the Bills took control of the ball. Their motivation and identity was at an all time high, as a win this week would have put them at 6-2; a record that the franchise have not seen since 1999. Despite having the stage set up for the Bills to take a hold of their own destiny, and  Las Vegas giving them a four and a half point advantage for odds, Buffalo does what they do best by embarrassing themselves.

Buffalo’s record still isn’t bad despite the loss. At 5-3 they’re surprisingly still one of the top teams with most wins in the NFL right now. It makes things still a little nerve-racking considering that the Bills currently have the longest playoff drought in the NFL, and unless they go on a massive win streak soon it might not be enough to even be a wild card team. New England is still predicted to win the AFC East once again, and Buffalo being in second place doesn’t seem entirely secure because they’re about on pace with the rest of the NFL this year. The 2017 season is both bizarre and exciting mended together, because there are just a few top teams who are on a clear pedestal above everyone else, and then a few bottom teams who are laughably dragging behind the crowd. Buffalo sits among the rest of the NFL — all wading in a pool of average mediocrity. Nobody in this purgatory is necessarily horrible nor great, and any time a rhythm begins to muster among these teams, the beat gets disrupted by a disappointing loss. Going by the current records, the teams who reign on top are the Patriots, Steelers, Chiefs, Eagles, and Vikings. To parody the top, there must be teams scavenging the bottom which include the Browns, 49ers, Colts, Giants, and Buccaneers. That means there are 22 other teams all floating right in the middle; clawing and crawling among each other to be a top contender only to get nowhere in the process.

There are still plenty of football left. Any one of the teams in the mediocre purgatory could finally catch that rhythm to fight their way across the rest and place themselves into a definite spot for the playoffs. Buffalo still has potential to be that team, but they will need to figure it out quick. The NFL is ruthless, and any other team can make a name for themselves to knock the Buffalo Bills out of the playoff contention. This should be a concern for them. It should be their motivation to create an identity and finally clean that tarnished drought they lay in. Now is the time to pick themselves back up and make it time for Tyrod Taylor to prove he can be a franchise quarterback for them. It can be time for Sean McDermott to shine, and make the city of Buffalo believe in their franchise again. Until that day happens, it might be a wise choice to hold your bets on Buffalo for right now.

Gruesome Loss in Foxborough

Tom Brady. Super Bowl champions. Belichick. Foxborough.

These are the words that usually make lots of people nervous when playing the New England Patriots. Everybody except Andy Reid, that is. The NFL season has officially begun, and what a crazy epidemic match we witnessed on Thursday Night Football when the Kansas City Chiefs came in to the reigning Lombardi Trophy wielders, and made the champs look like chumps. Ironic how the 66,000+ fans in attendance had pictures of Roger Goodell with a clown nose, but the Pats were the ones with pie on their face at the end of this game. Considering we saw Brady play the best second half in Super Bowl history, we now witnessed one of his worst second half performances during the Patriots home opener.

There is no doubt the Patriots started off strong, collecting their first drive for a total of 78 yards and a touchdown. They looked unstoppable, just how we all expected Bill Belichick’s team to always perform since he took over as head coach in 2000. The touchdowns definitely came easy as always for New England, so where did they go wrong? Was it the bad luck? Did they lose momentum when Belichick decided to go for it on 4th down not once, but twice and didn’t convert on downs? Or could the crowd to be blamed for being silenced when Gronkowski catching the 20 yard bullet pass in the end zone, only for the play to be reviewed and ruled the ball touch the ground? Nobody can blame Belichick for believing in his offense, but maybe some credit needs to be noted towards Kansas City defense. Granted they allowed Mike Gillislee three touchdowns when on the goal line, they did stop the Patriots when it mattered most. They didn’t create any turn overs, but they did sack Tom Brady in the second half three times; two of them accumulating from Justin Houston himself.

The Patriots did have every opportunity to punish Kansas City for their mistakes. The very first play on their first drive the Chiefs handed the ball off to rookie running back Kareem Hunt, only for the 12 yard run to end in a fumble recovered by the Patriots defense. Patriots didn’t execute from the turnover, and basically just wasted time off the clock for Kansas City to set up a new drive, go down the field, and score. Tip of the hat goes towards Andy Reid, Alex Smith, and Kareem Hunt for not allowing the momentum the Patriots were stacking up get to them. They were like a vacuum, sucking out the crowd noise and the pressure building on their shoulders. Even when the Chiefs were trying to just give the game away — racking up 15 penalties for 139 yards — Alex Smith still came on the field to do his job.

Maybe signing Patrick Mahomes was the motivation to spark Smith to play the best we’ve ever seen him, and secure his starting position as quarterback. Smith was 28 for 35 passing completions, with an 80% completion percentage, 352 passing yards averaging 9.3 yards per play, and 3 passing touchdowns. That is some straight up Tom Brady statistics, only Brady wasn’t as fortunate with his numbers. Brady only had 247 passing yards, completing a mere 44% of his passes, averaging 6 yards per play, and ended the day with a big goose egg for passing touchdowns. Was it role reversal day in Foxborough that none of us were aware of? That may be one of the worst stats we’ve seen from Tom Brady since his rookie year playing in the NFL.

Despite the fumble his first play mentioned above, Kareem Hunt had himself one hell of debut being broadcast nationally. Coming home with a whopping 148 rushing yards, 98 passing yards, 3 total touchdowns. That’s a total of 246 scrimmage yards, which hasn’t been done since 1970. In the second half of the game, Kareem Hunt looked scary good. Whether it was momentum or motivation, the Patriots did not have an answer for Hunt. This might be a common theme going forward the rest of the season for other defenses, especially if Alex Smith decides to keep setting the bar high for himself. People expected good things from Hunt this season taking over for an injured Spencer Ware, and I was one of them. Nobody expected something this spectacular from a rookie going in to Foxborough. Was it beginners luck? Possibly. It would be foolish to expect Kareem Hunt to have explosive games like this every week. Then again, last year we saw Jay Ajayi have back-to-back 200+ rushing yard games, so anything can happen.

On the flip side of the coin, don’t expect the Patriots to look like this the remainder of the year. Maybe New England just underestimated what Kansas City has to offer this year. Perhaps Bill Belichick blames the Patriots being five weeks behind everyone else. One thing is for certain though: I wouldn’t want to be the New Orleans Saints next week. Between an angry head coach, a motivated Brady, and a defense that wants redemption, it looks like the Saints are going to have their hands full going in to week two.