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If I asked you which players made the biggest impact in Sunday’s win for the Broncos, who would you say?
If I asked you who made the big plays, you’d probably throw in Chris Harris Jr. and Royce Freeman, as well.
All of those guys have something in common, and it’s what makes Sunday’s win so important.
That group of seven player players right there is the Broncos core moving forward.
No matter what happens with Vance Joseph. No matter what happens with Case Keenum—who deserves credit for a very strong fourth quarter. No matter what happens with the contracts of veterans like Derek Wolfe, Darian Stewart and Brandon Marshall. No matter what happens with anything moving forward, that group of players will be what the Denver Broncos are all about.
For the Orange & Blue, Sunday was a vindication of what this team can do when their core clicks, when their stars step up. When that happens, this team is capable of beating good teams and beating them on the road. That small step is an important one for a franchise that is on the brink of an offseason in which a lot of evaluation will take place.
For an organization that will likely miss the playoffs for the third year in a row and is in danger of their second straight losing season, the front office will have to answer an imperative question: Is the problem that the core isn’t strong enough? Or does the problem lie within what surrounds the core—the coaching staff, the role players, the quarterback?
If they truly believe the answer is the latter—as Sunday’s win would suggest—the fix is a lot more simple. If the problem is the core, the only solution is a full rebuild. That would mean shipping off guys like Miller, Sanders and Harris Jr. for picks and building the whole dang thing from the ground up.
When John Elway aced this year’s NFL Draft (plus Phillip Lindsay), he just may have added enough to the core to avoid having to burn the whole thing down. Sunday’s win is a big step in the right direction for that theory.
Lindsay, Sutton, and Sanders combined for 240 of Denver’s 325 offensive yards, add in Freeman and the group accounted for all three touchdowns.
On the defensive side, Miller, Chubb and Harris Jr. combined for two sacks and two interceptions, including Miller’s pick that turned the game around.
Those seven players have an average age of 25.7 years old, a perfect mix of experience and youth. In all reality, this is what your core is supposed to look like.
As weird as it may be, the Broncos are a Case Keenum overthrow and a Brandon McManus missed field goal away from being 6-4. As weird as it may be, Denver is only one game behind the Baltimore Ravens, who currently hold the last AFC playoff spot at 5-5. As weird as it may be, the Broncos might be better than the narrative would suggest.
On Sunday, the Broncos core—with a little help from 4th-quarter Case Keenum and Brandon McManus—beat a very good team, on the road, in spite of some questionable calls from the officials and some questionable decisions from the coaching staff. You have to believe a win like that helps John Elway believe that, with the right support around them, this group of players can take the Broncos where they are supposed to be.
If that’s the case, Elway’s job moving forward gets easier. If that’s the case, maybe the Broncos—as they’ve do desperately tried to do the last two years—can turn this thing around in one more offseason. That’s what makes Sunday’s win so important.