Seasons of Our Sports Discontent
Six days ago, Denver was tied atop the AFC West with San Diego. While Denver's offense had been inconsistent (aka, anemic), Denver's defense held many of the top ratings in the league and had earned much of the plaudits for the then 7-2 record. This past Sunday night, the Broncos met their lead-sharing opponents at Invesco at Mile High Stadium. A venue where the Broncos have dominated the Chargers.
Until this past Sunday nite, that is (Chargers 35, Broncos 27).
Four days later, Denver travelled to Kansas City for a Turkey Night duel with another AFC West nemesis: Kansas City. When the smoke of the various misfires cleared, Denver had gone from second in the AFC West, to tied for third in the AFC West. Only team left for Denver to compete with in the wrong direction they're taking is the lower-than-snake-spit Raiders.
Not all turkeys were eaten this day; some went on nation-wide TV display on FOX.
The rumblings hereabouts have been audible from the pre-season: after starting QB Jake Plummer's meltdown against Pittsburgh in the AFC title game, Plummer has been less than stellar in the '06 campaign. He didn't light any fires in pre-season. His finest game -- against Indianapolis at Denver -- ended in defeat, quite possibly on his one game-turning miscue. His performance in the rest have been...between "eh" to "ack".
The defense has carried the water for the offense through nine games. Two games later -- battered, bruised, and with key players out with injuries -- the defense can't carry the offense's water any more.
San Diego and KC proved that.
Denver's #1 pick in the draft -- QB Jay Cutler, Vanderbilt -- has been patiently waiting in the wings. Some fans wanted him to start Week#1; the clamor for this has intensified with each subsequent subpar performance by the offense week. Prior to the San Diego game, I wasn't yet among them.
After KC, I'm forced to admit I agree.
Granted, it can't be all laid on Plummer. The running game hasn't been up to par this season; that means the offensive line performance hasn't, either. The defense has been pitted and dinged, and several key players who helped make it the 'bend-don't-break' monster it was, are out for the season now. Carrying the load as it has, it's grown worn and more prone to bending and breaking. Special teams have been inconsistent or bad of late, with emphasis to the bad end.
And of course, let us not forget the coaching and play-calling. Perhaps biggest in this mix is the fact that long-time offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak went to Houston; any change like that has an effect.
Bottom line: it ain't working.
The fans want Cutler in and Plummer mounted backward on a mule, run out of town. I only agree that it appears a change is needed; Plummer just doesn't appear to have the confidence needed in this scheme anymore. Miracle-working receivers like Javon Walker -- seen throwing his helmet in disgust early in the KC game -- suggests that team confidence isn't what the spinmeisters try to sell it as, either.
I'm not convinced that at 7-4, Denver's playoff hopes are over. They are still very much in the wildcard mix. But if they can't beat teams like Indy and SD at home -- and these are the kind of teams Denver will likely face in the playoffs -- coupled with the pathetic performance of the offense should it continue apace, then it's reasonable to project that Denver will be a short-timer in a post-season they'll have to spend on the road.
So it appears it's time for the coaching staff to start looking to the future. Let the youngster get his feet wet, even if it's in liquid napalm. At worst, Cutler gets a rude but realistic education as to what lies ahead in the '07 campaign. At best, he invigorates the offense, and re-ignites a fire that appears to be dimming by the week in both the team and the fan-base.
That's how John Elway learned. And Peyton Manning. And a few other examples in the league at present.
Of course, if Shanahan starts Cutler and he fares no better than Jake, some of the boobirds will no doubt be demanding something else different: perhaps that he (Shanahan) bring back Bradley VanPelt. Or unretire John Elway.
Note to fans: as for resurrecting Elway, see Brett Favre's last two seasons.
Ah, the seasons of our sports discontent in Denver. You know there's discontent, when you have folks begging for the start of baseball early. As if the Rockies are going to make this less painful?