When the clock finally ran out on the Denver Broncos' 31-19 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, I could not stop thinking how great it is that the Broncos finally have a quarterback the quality of Peyton Manning. They call him "PFM" around these parts, and your imagination can probably decipher what that means. Manning indeed lived up to the highest expectations anyone would have had of him tonight. It's a certainty that, without Manning's experience and intelligence, the Broncos would have been lost without him.
Over and over again, I couldn't help think throughout the entire game how different this team looked from the team that went 8-8 in 2011 and defeated the Steelers in the wild card playoff game back in January. It felt then like the Broncos largely lucked into that playoff spot through a combination of poor opponents, great Tim Tebow plays at the end of certain games, and a somewhat stout and underrated defense. Even the playoff win over the Steelers felt like we robbed them somehow. We shouldn't have won that game, but yet we did.
This time around the win felt authentic and well-earned. The Steelers are still a very good team, and Ben Roethlisberger is a great quarterback. They had an outstanding game plan on offense tonight. The focus was in simply taking up as much of the game clock as they could, and for the first three quarters that strategy worked really well. The Broncos had just two drives in the second and third quarters combined (I don't count the final knee at the end of the first half as a drive). Unfortunately for the Steelers, both of those drives resulted in touchdowns. If not for the extreme efficiency with which the Broncos worked their offense tonight, the Steelers plan would have worked. Get used to this, Broncos fans. If the defense can't get opposing teams off the field the way the Broncos struggled to do with the Steelers tonight through the first three quarters, we will see this same game plan used against the Broncos over and over.
That's why it's so important to have a quarterback that is so smart that he can make the most of every drive. Manning again and again made sure that the Broncos went to the right play in the right situation (of course, I will credit the coaching staff as well). He utilized the run well when Steelers safety Troy Polamalu would stay back from the line of scrimmage. He choose the right receiver every time (even if they didn't catch the ball). No real mistakes from Manning. No interceptions. Just smart, efficient football.
The Broncos defense was very put upon this game, and there's clearly a need for some better play from the linebackers and just tackling in general from everyone. I know Roethlisberger can be a hard man to bring down, but overall the Broncos missed several tackles that ultimately prolonged Steelers' drives. Cornerback Tracy Porter was picked on a lot by the Steelers tonight and gave up quite a few plays until the fourth quarter. Porter got his revenge then with a couple of great plays to help stop the Steelers on one drive, and then he followed that with a game-clinching interception that he returned for a touchdown on the next drive.
There were many positive things to come from this game. Most importantly for the Broncos, it was a victory. Every win will be of ultra-importance in this 2012 season with the Broncos having such a hard schedule. Manning was already talking in post-game interviews about how much of a challenge next week will be against the Atlanta Falcons. Broncos fans, we have a real quarterback, a real team, and a real chance to go very far this season. Let's enjoy the ride.
Julie is a featured NFL contributor who writes about the Denver Broncos for the Yahoo Contributor Network. She's been crazy about football her entire life, and began rooting for the Broncos when she moved to Denver in 2001. She also stood outside Broncos headquarters for hours the night that they brought Peyton Manning in for his initial interview.
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