Kickoff is less than fifteen, the buffet is rocking and I'm actually ready to bust it out…
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Not a real shocker – Broncos take the kick and stumble their way to near disaster. On the ground to Buckhalter for absolutely nothing - incomplete to Gaffney and a quick side toss to Daniel Graham who had fallen, picked up by the Eagles who walk untouched into the end zone… OUCH – McDaniels challenges the call insisting it was not a backwards pass. Brief conference and the zebra's rule in McD's favor – the ball did travel forward, albeit by inches, and the Denver Broncos dodge a HUGE one – three and out never looked so good.
Something tells me here comes trouble…
Philly takes it at the 36 – Westbrook's in the lineup and McNabb airs it out – incomplete to Jackson. Weaver up the middle for a few and on third and ten Denver's "D" gets tagged for illegal contact on guess who – Brian Dawkins - automatic first down at the 39.
Back to back ground game for a first and back to the air to Jackson for their third fiorst down of the drive… not a good sign. Two plays later the Eagles are piling up the real estate and move the chains to the 22. Third and seven from the 19 and it's Elvis to the rescue – fights through the block to nail McNabb from the blindside – FUMBLE – Darrell Reid recovers and the Eagles walk away empty. The gods of football are smiling on Jr. McHoodie – at least temporarily.
Broncos respond by their second consecutive three and out – three plays and including the third down sack, the Broncos gained exactly one-yard the entire series… Making matters worse, everybody;s favorit punter – Mitch Berger rack out a whopping 29-yard punt… Remind me again why we got rid of Brett Kern?
McNabb lines it up at their own 39 – short screen to McCoy and the rookie busts it for 39 big one. Back to the air – back to Jackson – first and ten for the 12. Perfect strike to Avant – broncos draw the flag for interference – automatic first down at the seven. Two plays later McNabb finds Desean Jackson in the end zone and Philly takes an early 7-0 lead.
Rookie Kenney McKinley takes the kick and gets slammed by the Eagles special teams – comes up lame and has to be helped off the field. Orton looks for the savior – quick toss to Marshall who also gets railed by the Eagles "D" after a painful four-yard gain. Buck on the ground for a few brings up third and one. Orton looks for Stokley down the middle – off his fingertips and Stokley blow up – he got held coming across the middle but no flags – during the tantrum Stokley makes contact with the official – automatic ejection… replay shows his hands brushed the official as he was trying to make his point…
Well this has been a lot of fun…. Eagles take possession at their own 40 as McKinley is being carted off the field. The master of clock management guides it well – six-plays, 39-yards and david Akers makes it one for one on fg's with a 39-yarder as the quarter comes to a close – Eagles hold Denver scoreless and enjoy a 10-0 lead.
Time to regroup – With Eddie Royal sidelined with injuries Buckhalter takes the kick and brings it out to the 32. Back to Buck on the ground – no gain so Orton goes to the air – hits Brandon Marshall right in the hands – ball is dropped. Denver still doesn't have a first down for the game. Orton back to the air – hits Brandon Lloyd down the middle – they're shaking the dist off the chains - first and ten from the 48.
Believe it or not Orton's got them moving – inside the red zone – Strikes it rich with Gaffney and it's a Broncos touchdown. Twelve plays, 70-yards and just under six minutes are taken off the clock – Denver cuts the lead 10-7. Nice to see the offense waking up…
You gotta love McNabb's "No Worries" attitude – 4-plays, 88-yards in a buck and a quarter – Philly's back on top by ten 17-7. Made it look easy – McNabb to Brent Celek for 34-yards, Westbrook on the ground for seven and back to Celek for 47-yards. Denver's backfield's got more gaps than Strahan's teeth – nobody within 10-yards of the receiver and Reynaldo Hill waffles on national TV. Even the replay looks like he could have hit him before the score – embarrassing to say the least.
I might have spoke too soon with the "Nice to see them wake up" comment - Broncos respond with an ugly three and out… enough said.
On the flip side Phillly responds like a playoff team should – 12 plays, half a football field and the lights on the scoreboard point out a 20-7 Eagles lead. Nice time management – 6:33 dissapears off the clock and the sun begins to set on the Denver Broncos 2009 season… first half comes to a close.
Eagles take the kick and start right back on the attack. McNabb to Maclin on first and ten picks up a sweet 25-yards. Back to the air – looking for Jackson – but it's Champ bailey with the INT – Broncos catch a break and have fifty-yards to operate. This could be now or never - let's see how they respond.
It's Moreno and Marshall's show now – methodically moving the chains Denver finds itself ten-yards from paydirt before an illegal shift penalty moves them back five. Incomplete to Scheffler and a wasted toss for no gain to Graham forces the field goal. Not that I'm worried but you may want to hold your breath – Prater connects from 33out and Denver trims the gap – 20-10. It's kind of like when the paramedics find a pulse just seconds after they were ready to give up – Welcome to Broncos football.
All they need is one defensive stop, all they need is one defensive stop, all they need is one defensive stop… no such luck – in fact Denver's defense practically hands it to them. Pass interference on Bailey moves the chains 41-yards and illegal hands to the face put Philly inside the twenty. One play later McNabb fires it off Reynaldo Hills hands straight into the waiting arms of Jason Avant… Eagles back on top 27-10 with just over seven left in the third.
It's musical chairs on kickoff returns – rookie Alphonso Smith becomes the fourth Bronco of the day to assume the position. Denver starts the drive on their own 23. Incomplete to Graham and a false start on Kuper and they're in the hole five yards on second and fifteen. Seven-yard sack on Orton and the Broncos continue to move backwards. Nice response on third and 22 – Buckhalter off the quick toss for 23. One of the Broncos biggest plays of the day – Orton to Scheffler adds another 26 and the Broncos are picking up some real estate – at least for the moment.
Intentional grounding on Orton looses a down and the unraveling begins. Second and twenty from the 40 and Orton gambles on double coverage to Scheffler – gamble doesn't payoff – intercepted by Asante Samuel. Eagles get a flag – Eagles get a flag – alert the media – Eagles get a flag… Unnecessary roughness and delay of game brings it all the way back to the one-yard line - Scheffler absolutely got leveled after the pick.
Eagles struggle but avoid the turnover – three and out and they're kicking from the end zone – Alphonso Smith on the return – add five-yard for one of the Eagles going out of bound and Orton will take it on a very short field at the Eagles 25.
Five plays later Orton connects with Jabar Gafney for a seven-yard strike and the Broncos creep back in – trail Philly 27-17.
Prater for the boot – and it's Darrell Reid laying a massive beatdown on Macho Harris – ball pops loose and the Broncos recover indside the twenty. Forty-seconds later Orton lines it up with Knowshon Moreno for a Denver touchdown… has the tide begun to turn – Broncos close out the third with 14 quick ones and trail 27-24 with a full quarter to play.
Eagles open the fourth forced to punt deep in their own territory – Smith on the return back to the Eagles 49. Now I'm having fun… Ok, maybe not - Orton gets sacked for a loss of six. Orton to Brandon Lloyd drops another two and Denver's looking at third and 18 from their own 43. Make that their own 48 – Philly gets flagged for a neutral zone infraction. Doesn't really matter – Broncos drive fizzles out and it's Berger to punt. Eagles field it just inside their own twenty
Broncos "D" looks revitalized and McNabb;s throwing grounders – three and out and Denver gets another shot – OUCH – Bailey's down on the field – trainers are helping him walk it off… You can't afford to loose Bailey at this stage.
Smith back for the kick comes close to total decapitation – Eagles flagged for the face mask and Denver starts it off just short of midfield.
Position doesn't help – drive stalls – Berger shanks it and the Eagles takes it at their own 19… Still wondering where Kern is at this point of the year – Berger's been about as disappointing as my SAT scores.
Philly doesn't fare much better – McNabb rolls three and out and the Broncos will field it at their own 44. Eagles punter's playing about as poorly as Berger – kind of amusing when you think about it…
Moreno through the air for five – Moreno on the ground for three and on third and two Orton hits Gaffney for 18 big ones. Philly crowd is ready to kill something. Two ridiculous short screens net a total of one-yard and on third and thirteen it's a quick shot to Buckhalter for five… lining it up for Prater – fourth down and the kid drills it from 46-yards out – Game is tied 27-27… unreal – this one's gonna boild down to who wants it most…
Philly comes close to sealing their fate – kick is fumbled but they retain possession. Here comes Dumervil – tosses McNabb like he's a rag doll for a ten-yard loss. Tack on another five for a false start and you're looking at second and twenty-five. Down the sideling – incomplete – it's third and twenty-five. Everybody except McNabb heads deep = QB scramble picks up the first – HUGE play for the Eagles. Clock is winding down under four minutes.
Defense tightens the reigns – forces a fourth and one from the 49 – Eagles elect to punt – Smith takes the fair catch inside the ten – here comes Orton with 3:00 remaining in regulation.
Out of the shotgun – Buckhalter up the middle for one. Back to the shotgun - huge pickup to Lloyd is brought back with offensive holding – terrible time for a flag. Second and fourteen – quick shot to Gaffney but it comes up short of the first as we hit the two-minute warning.
Third and nine – Orton scrambles just short of the first – flags fly again on offensive holding – Philly declines and the Broncos are forced to punt with a buck fifty left on the clock. Berger's career is on the line – 35-yard kick… I think I'm going to be sick…
McNabb fields it at the Denver 42. Keeps it on the ground for two. Down the sidelines – beautiful catch by Maclin – officials review – this could be a game breaker – Zebra's call it complete and the Eagles are down to the Broncos 13 with first and ten. Westbrook on the ground gets stuffed at the line of scrimmage – McD calls time…Weaver up the middle for three.. and the clock is stopped with Denver's third and final time out. Third and seven and McNabb takes it up the middle – leading up to David Akers who splits it straight down the middle with seven ticks left on the clock.
Game, Set, Match – Philly pulls it out and the Broncos are headed back to the drawing board. They're not mathmatically out of it just yet - but I think I'd stand a better chance of bagging a Hooters pin up than they do relying on everybody else to fold it up.
Gotta give them credit – they played it tight and played it strong – but at this stage just don't have what it takes to get over the hump… a new punter might be nice though…
Notes and quotes from the locker room to follow…
Michael John Schon has covered the National Football League and the Denver Broncos for the past twelve-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 and Internet stations around the country. You can follow all of Schon's updates on Twitter or drop him an email at Michael John Schon
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