Ok, so much for first impressions - Buffalo takes the opening kickoff and marches downfield at ease - fortunately it's Buffalo, and the drive stalls out - Bills are forced to punt from the Broncos 40-yard line. Kicker Brian Moorman nails it - ball is downed on the one-yard line.
Considering the field position couldn't get any worse, Shanahan got creative - going old school. Cutler on the option - tosses it to Travis Henry for a 33-yard gain - Great call - Nobody saw that one coming. For the first game of the season Cutler looks pretty composed, but the ground game is going nowhere - Sauerbrun's out to punt and we get our first look at the 2007 Broncos Special Teams unit.
Seventy-four yards later we find out Special Teams is anything but Special - Buffalo's Roscoe Parrish breaks it up the middle and nobody even comes close to stopping him - Buffalo pulls out a quick 7-0 lead. Of course it didn't help that Sauerbrun's punt had little to no air on it, and Parrish had a running start long before the Broncos even got close. Six minutes left in the first quarter and Denver's digging themselves out of a hole.
Cutler and Co. "Take 2" - Thanks to a 33-yard return by Domenik Hixon, the Broncos face a short field. Denver turns to a ground attack but Buffalo's got it covered - time to air it out. Cutler escapes a sack and connects with Javon Walker on a beautiful pass across the middle - good enough for a 21-yard gain. Once again the drive stalls and Mr. Reliable (Jason Elam) salvages the ten play drive with an easy chip shot field goal.
Bills lead 7-3.
Jim Bates' "D" steps it up - holding Bills RB Marshawn Lynch on back to back runs and knocking down a third and five pass at the line - Bills bring out Moorman for his second punt of the afternoon.
Broncos take over on their own 39-yard line. With the ground game sputtering Cutler's forced to go to the air - two competions in seven plays and the drive stalls on the Buffalo 41 - this is the point where I start to question whether or not Denver will ever find the end zone - Sauerbrun's back - 25-yarder to the Bills 16-yard line.
I get the feeling that if Denver were playing anybody stronger than the Bills they'd be getting killed - just an observation.
One of the best things the Broncos have going for them is Buffalo QB J.P. Losman - Bills drive goes nowhere and Cutler takes over on the 33. Once again they march it downfield only to get slammed when they cross midfield. Deja Vu it's Elam to the rescue (again) - nailing a 45-yarder. (Note - this is going to be a awfully long season if Jason Elam turns out to be the Broncos 'go-to-guy'). Denver trails 7-6.
Buffalo takes the kickoff and lays it out on Denver's Special Teams - AGAIN - Shanahan looks bent - the next time somebody gets tackled will be the first time someone gets tackled - Buffalo drive starts at midfield.
J.P Losman - being as good as J.P. Losman can be - finds a bit of luck against the Broncos secondary. Marshawn Lynch busts it out on fourth and one and Buffalo grabs a little short lived momentum - real short lived - drive hits the wall on the Broncos 27 where Ryan Lindell comes out and shanks his first field goal attempt of 2007 - Denver takes over with 1:11 left in the half trailing 7-6.
Broncos bust out the two-minute offense - Cutler connects with Henry for eight - Cutler hits Daniel Graham for a yard - followed by a beautiful toss to Brandon Stokley - good for 34-yards and the Broncos have a first down at the Bills 22. Cutler bobbles the snap, gets control and promptly throws his first interception of the year - Bills DB Jim Leonhard returns the INT 36-yards to the Buffalo 44 and Losman gets another shot with twenty-seven seconds left.
Bills move it to the Broncos 35 and set up for a field goal with eight seconds remaining - a false start moves it back five-yards which is apparently out of range for Leonhard. Lossman trots back out for one last crack at a score - pass intercepted by Elvis Dummerville and a dissapointing first half comes to a close with Buffalo on top 7-6.
First Half Stats
First downs - Denver 9 - Buffalo 7
Rushing yards - Denver 72 - Buffalo 54
Passing yards - Denver 130 - Buffalo 38
Return yards - Denver 39 - Buffalo 159
Offensive yards - Denver 202 - Buffalo 92
Yards per play - Denver 6.5 - Buffalo 3.3
Scariest moment in football - Broncos take the kick - during the return Bills TE Kevin Everett collides with Domenik Hixon and falls motionless to the turf. Ten minutes later he's taken off the field on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance. Prayers go out it's not serious…
Players on both sides try an compose themselves and Denver takes over on the twenty. Cutler connects with Marshall for three - follows up with with an incompletion to Walker. On third and seven Walker redeems himself with a seventeen-yard gain, moving it out to the 40. Brandon Stokley comes up huge with 23-yard completion and the Broncos are on a roll at the Bills 37. Henry picks up two on the ground - rookie Selvin Young adds a three and on third an five Cutler's pass to Walker is deflected at the line - Here comes Elam (again) - kick is shanked wide left and an eight play drive comes up empty - Bills take over on their own 41.
Buffalo's offense looks to regroup after Everett's injury but the Broncos "D" is getting better with age - holding solid till third and nine when Lynch breaks it down the sideline for a ten-yard pickup. So much for that theory. More ground attack and the Bills continue to pound the run - another ten-yard gain for Lynch moves it to the Broncos 22. More Marshawn - this time down the right side for his first career touchdown - Bills take a 14-6 lead -OUCH... I think I need a beer.
Broncos rebound nicely with the best drive of the day - Shanahan breaks out the two tight end set - utilizing Henry through the air for a sweet 21-yard pick up. Cutler spots Brandon Marshall for 15-yards then caps off a ten play, eighty-one yard drive with another toss to Marshall - five-yards and a score. Trailing 14-12 Shanahan goes for broke on a two point conversion - pass to Walker falls incomplete. On the positive side - it took over two and a half quarters, but the Denver Broncos finally find their way to the end zone in 2007.
BTW - what's up with Brandon Marshall's hair? It looks like a road map exploded.
Losman and the Bills set it up on the 33 after Terrence McGee rolls out a 27-yard return. All fizzle and no flair - Bills go three and out - Hixon looses four on the return and Cutler and Co. take it over on their own eleven.
Broncos don't fare much better - five plays - a 27-yard advance and Denver settles for another Todd Sauerbrun punt - this one travels 56-yards and the Bills take over on their own 21 with just under twelve minutes left in the game...
Losman moves it out to the midfield before Moorman is forced to punt - 35-yards to the Broncos 10 - Bills get tagged for an illegal hit to Hixon, who had signaled for a fair catch - tack on 15 to the play and Denver starts at its own 25.
Cutler moves it into Bills territory, but again the offense falls short of a TD - Elam's out for the third time today - UNBELIEVABLE - he misses his second in a row and the Broncos limp away scoreless… I can't remember the last time Elam missed back to back. I'll blame it on Todd Sauerbrun the holder.
With the clock winding down Buffalo comes up short - another three and out - fortunately for Denver they didn't use too much time - Cutler gets one last shot at redemption with two-minutes and 66-yards between success and failure - you gotta love it.
Henry off right tackle for eight - pass to Henry moves it to the 37. Bring it back - lineman Chris Myers gets nailed for holding and the ball ends up on the Broncos 31. . Cutler gets a gift from the gods - an abysmal shovel pass, eerily reminiscent of Jake Plummer, turns into a fumble before rookie Selvin Young knocks it out of bounds at the Denver 31. Penalty on the play (illegal batting the ball out of bounds) and the Broncos dodge a bullet but also take a giant step backwards.
Third and twenty-three - Cutler hits Walker for a sweet 21 - still two-yards short of a first down - Shanny burns a time out facing a fourth and two with a minute and a half on the clock.
Cutler scrambles to the right for seven - picks up a crucial first down - clock continues to run - Henry gets dropped for a loss of three - and with 1:03 left in regulation Shanny burns his final time out.
Cutler to Marshall down the side - incomplete - Cutler to Walker - complete to the Buffalo 43 - Walker gets pushed out of bounds to kill the clock. Again to Walker - a pickup of eight moves it to the Bills 35. Cutler spikes it with fifty-one seconds left. QB scramble proves to be a waste of time - no gain and the clock moves down to thirty-eight seconds. No huddle offense as Cutler connects with - guess who - Javon Walker for eleven-yards to the Buffalo 24. It's a complete scramble but in the span of about fifteen seconds the Broncos manage to get their first team offense off the field - their special teams unit on the field - and still have about two seconds for Elam (Mr. "Go To") to sail it straight through the uprights - Bills look completely stunned - Final score Broncos 15 - Buffalo 14.
If I didn't see it - I wouldn't believe it - the Broncos pull one out of their ... (hats). Jason Elam's my new best friend...
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Michael John Schon has covered the National Football League and the Denver Broncos for the past ten years. As a member of the Pro Football Writers Association he has published and syndicated columns to both newspapers and magazines throughout the United States and Canada. His syndicated radio broadcast: "Schon Live" airs weekly on various radio stations around the country.
Schon can be reached at Schon@prostarmediagroup.net
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