This was a very satisfying game for a number of reason, but principally because the Denver Broncos showed that they can go through a rough part of the game and still come back when the chips are down. I think if anything, this showed a maturation over the last three weeks, culminating with last week's painful lesson in closing out games. The Philadelphia Eagles have an excellent offense and an excellent defense and they showed it today at times. They are a top team and the Broncos handled them with relative ease.
The Broncos, on the other hand, played the most complete game they've played all season. They were able to answer Philly when they needed to, and that's something they've not done well the last month. With the twin distractions from last week's game and from Carswell's serious auto accident, the Broncos could have come out flat and unfocused. Instead, this was as intense a Broncos team as I've seen in a long time.
An outstanding offensive effort. Quarterback Jake Plummer had far and away his best game as a Bronco, and is my pick for the player of the game. This was a game where he had to take the team on his shoulders and carry them, especially in the fourth quarter after the flurry of Eagles points in the third quarter. His four touchdown passes and over 300 yards passing help set the tone for the whole game. It was interesting (if that's a good way to describe the apprehension I felt) to see how comfortable Plummer's become with being "managed" by coach Mike Shanahan. I thought some of his passes in the third quarter bordered on desperation and at least two or three were nearly picked off - and this happened when Plummer got out of his comfort zone for the first time in several games. To his credit, he put it back together for the fourth quarter and got the team on-track again when they needed it most.
I think wide receiver Ashley Lelie gave a resounding answer to all the "where is Ashley Lelie" tumult of the last couple of games. Todd Devoe and Charlie Adams are making a strong argument for the Broncos finally having some depth at wide receiver behind Rod Smith and Lelie.
Jeb Putzier is showing why he was worth the big contract (do all the big hits he takes - and gets back up again - remind you of Ed McCaffrey?), and when teamed with Stephan Alexander, the Broncos have a one-two punch at tight end that could really help carry the team far.
The running game, behind Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell, was absolutely crucial to the success of the team. The Eagles came into the game having totally shut down LaDanian Tomlinson the week before, and the pundits were foretelling doom for the Broncos running game. This was a great illustration of why the Broncos have Anderson and Bell both carrying the ball, as their particular talents (bruising running to move a pile and elusive speed) were put to great use today. And, of course, the running game was used to great advantage in setting up the passing game (and vice-versa, in a perfect complement).
No mention of anything the offense accomplished would be complete without giving large kudos to the Broncos' offensive line. They were opening huge holes for the running game and they gave Plummer as good of pass protection has he's had all season. Success on offense all starts up front and the Broncos front five were simply outstanding today.
The defense lived and died by the blitz today, and I'm not sure that a 100% healthy Champ Bailey could have totally prevented the defensive problems in the third quarter. More and more, the rookie tandem of Darrent Williams and Dominique Foxworth are looking like real finds in this year's draft. Both are beginning to show real ball-hawking skills (Foxworth made the play that really turned the game around for the Broncos with his end-zone interception), and I think in the process, they're going to make it much more comfortable for the Broncos to not offer a large contract to Lenny Walls at the end of this season. In fact, all the DB's deserve a big hand for their play today.
By the way, I think it's a great thing that Williams and Foxworth are getting bloodied like they've been in the last few games. They're facing superior receivers and some very good quarterbacks, and so far they're responding - and that's going to be paying dividends in the postseason.
The defensive line was very active today, especially against an obviously-hurting quarterback Donovan McNabb. Most importantly, the defensive linemen were breaking through the Philly pass protection to hurry McNabb, when they weren't planting him on the turf. It's fun to see how Gerard Warren, Courtney Brown and Trevor Pryce can create nightmares for rival offensive coordinators - it's been a long time in Broncoland since that has happened.
Finally for the linebackers. There can be little argument against the Broncos trio of Ian Gold, Al Wilson and D.J. Williams being among the best, if not THE best, in the entire league. Their speed and agility can be simply astounding at times.
Special Teams: B
Repeat after me: "This is the NFL. When we field a punt, we can't run backwards like we did in college". Special teams would have graded out much better, save for the fact that too often Charlie Adams and Darrent Williams tried the college trick of backing up to gain time. That doesn't work in the faster pro game - and it's something that both of them have regressed to since they had worked that out in the preseason games. Luckily, that's coachable, which means it's fixable. And, hey, Jason Elam made all the field goals he attempted today...
An excellent game plan. Everybody on offense had a role in the game today. The defense was every bit as aggressive today as they weren't last week against the Giants.
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