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Why this year's 2-0 start for the Broncos is different from last year's

Zac Stevens Avatar
September 17, 2018

DENVER — Last year, when the Denver Broncos were down, they were out.

But this isn’t last year, as Vance Joseph, John Elway and every other member of the Broncos organization likes to point out over and over and over again.

Last year, even as they got out to a 2-0 start, they did so without facing much adversity. In each of their first two wins, the team cruised out to early leads over the Chargers and Cowboys. Then, in their first real encounter with hard times, in Week 3, they folded, a harbinger of things to come throughout the season.

“Last year is last year,” the head coach said after the latest 2-0 start, refusing to look in the review mirror. “Last year is over. I don’t remember last year. But this year, our team is different. The culture is different… Last year is over. We’re a different team. We’re a different team through and through.”

Sunday was a shining example to back up Joseph’s statement.

In 2017, when the going got tough, the Broncos folded, losing eight games by double digits.

This year, the Broncos put together back-to-back wins in which the team overcame fourth-quarter deficits in each game.

“We’ve got a great locker room in there. There are some incredible guys that never quit. Never quit. I love that about them,” Case Keenum said after leading the game-winning drive. “We have great, great chemistry going right now with those guys. No matter what, I don’t think anyone points a finger at any one person. We just keep plugging along.”

In Week 1, Denver trailed at four different times in the game, including early in the fourth before eventually going ahead and winning by three.

“Two weeks in a row our guys played through adversity,” Joseph said after his team’s 20-19 win against the Oakland Raiders in Week 2.

Sunday, Joseph’s crew didn’t take their first lead until there were a mere six seconds left on the clock. Once Oakland kicked a field goal to go up 3-0 with 9:33 left in the first quarter, Denver trailed until Brandon McManus’ game-winning field goal just seconds before the final horn.

“We’re capable, we know we can do it, and it was just a testament to everyone’s grit and the hard work we put in,” Keenum said, continuing to applaud the team’s mental makeup. “We put in a lot of investment, and when you put in a lot of investment in the offseason and training camp and working hard, you get to pull on that investment when the pressure turns on, and the heat turns up. It’s pretty special.”

Special is the word many Broncos used to describe the chemistry of this team after Sunday’s come-from-behind victory. And it has been a special start through two weeks.

Not since 2007 has this organization started the season with two fourth-quarter-comeback drives. In the last four seasons, only three other teams have done that — the Atlanta Falcons in 2015, the New York Giants in 2016 and the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017. Those three teams went a combined 29-19.

The mental composure of this team isn’t an accident, either. In fact, it’s far from it.

The Broncos heavily invested in mature leaders this offseason — from drafting a horde of captains and high-character players to signing veteran leaders such as Jared Veldheer and, of course, Case Keenum.

“Those young guys that are playing for us are all qualified,” Joseph stated. “We’ve got a lot of young guys playing, but they’ve shown us the last two weeks that it’s not too big for them. They’re just doing their jobs, and they’re good players, and they’re good athletes, and they’re tough guys.”

The emphasis on mental toughness didn’t stop with bringing in smart, mature players, either.

Every Friday, Joseph and the team have a meeting about the two-minute offense and being smart in situational football. That meeting paid extreme dividends in the team’s game-winning, two-minute drive.

“It wasn’t just Case, it was Jeff Heuerman getting out of bounds. It was Emmanuel Sanders running the ball into the ref, into the hash,” Joseph said, explaining the positive mental choices his team made on the final drive.

No play was bigger than the final offensive play of the game, where Keenum found Tim Patrick on a four-yard route. Instead of immediately running out of bounds to stop the clock and set up a 57-yard field goal, the tall receiver turned it up field before scampering out of bounds at Oakland’s 18-yard line.

No. 81’s decision to make a play gained the Broncos 22 more yards, setting up an easy 36-yard chip shot for McManus to drain.

“The clocks running, Tim Patrick runs out of bounds — that was a huge play for us,” Joseph said with authority. “For him, that was a big-time play. He knew what he was doing. Going back inside with about 18 seconds, he’s OK there. We can still spike it with three seconds and kick a field goal. He was right on.

“Our guys on that drive played really, really, really, really, really smart. I was very impressed with those three players.”

The 12-point halftime comeback was the tenth time the Broncos have overcome a 12-point deficit in the history of their franchise.

“The special thing about this team is we’re all one,” Von Miller said, explaining the dynamic of the team. “There wasn’t really a speech or anything like that. You could just feel it, and that’s a special thing. That’s a special team. You’ve got to have special guys to be able to achieve that.”

Through two weeks, the Broncos have proved on the field that last year is last year.

New year, new team.

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