The Cowboys' next opponent replaced longtime coach Mike Shanahan with former New England assistant Josh McDaniels, who promptly got off on the wrong foot with franchise quarterback Jay Cutler, who then groused until the team was forced to trade him to the Chicago Bears. Malcontent receiver Brandon Marshall was so cooperative in practice that he got suspended for the final two weeks of preseason, only to be reinstated when the games counted — a move that had to send waves of a double standard for stars throughout the locker room.
Yet here are the Broncos, preparing to face the Cowboys with a glistening 3-0 record.
"Things like that can take place, I guess," Dallas linebacker Keith Brooking said when asked about the apparent drama in the Mile High City, "but when you have the right kind of players in your locker room, I think it can kind of go the other direction — it can kind of bring you closer together. Adversity doesn't build character — it reveals it. Obviously that locker room is made up of a lot of football players that love the game, and regardless of what happens, they're going to come there and get the best out of the day, and try to win games on Sunday."
Brooking said that while he is impressed by the Broncos' fast start, considering the drama they survived during the offseason, the fact that they are off to such a fast start isn't a complete surprise.
"No — that's kind of the way this league's made up now," Brooking said. "There's a tremendous amount of parity, because of free agency and the salary cap, and year after year, you kind of see that happen in the NFL. I was part of that last year with the Atlanta Falcons — we finished last in our division, and then we come back last year and we're in the playoffs. In this league, the way it's made up, you have quick turnarounds.
"You add a couple of key pieces in the offseason, via free agency and the draft, and you can become a contender very fast. They've done that, and they have good coaching. You can tell that with McDaniels. You don't see a lot of superstars on that offense, but man, they play well together. He does a great job of putting them in position to play at their strengths, for every player across the board, (and they have) a quarterback (former Chicago Bear Kyle Orton) who's making smart decisions with the football and not turning the ball over. That's a winning combination."
That Orton is leading an undefeated team might be the biggest surprise of all. In a league that prizes strong-armed gunslingers — Brett Favre is one thing, but JaMarcus Russell? — the soft-tossing Orton has become the ultimate example of what former Dallas coach Bill Parcells referred to as a "bus driver," a smart quarterback who might not be able to connect on a 60-yard missile but puts the ball where his receiver can catch it and avoids costly turnovers.
"I think he played very good football in Chicago," Brooking said of Orton, "and he's put in a situation now where he has a very good football coach that is putting guys in position to make plays down the field when the time comes, and when it's not there, (Orton) is not making bad decisions with the ball.
"That's very key for a quarterback. He's not pressing — he's just taking what the defense gives him. It's very similar to — you watch the New England Patriots when McDaniels was there — it's the same type of thing. Until Randy Moss was there, they really weren't a very explosive offense. They'd dink and dunk the ball down the field and be patient, and when the time (came), they'd make big plays. That's kind of what Kyle Orton is doing right now."
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