Team First: 2009 Broncos Similar To 2003 Patriots

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Team First: 2009 Broncos Similar To 2003 Patriots
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

If the late John Denver were still alive to write a song about the 2009 Denver Broncos season thus far, it would have to be called “Rocky Mountain Low.”

After one of the wackiest offseason's any franchise in NFL history has had to deal with, it would appear to all observers the Broncos are reeling. In the past year, the team fired the head coach that led the team to its two Super Bowl titles, traded their Pro Bowl quarterback, and suspended their No. 1 receiver after his request for a trade was not met.

To even the most casual of football fans, this seems like a train wreck waiting to happen. Rookie Head Coach Josh McDaniels has had to deal with more in his first year than other coaches face in their careers. Broncos fans all over the country are preparing for a four-win season and what they consider to be an “inevitable” top-five pick in the 2010 draft.

Pardon the pun, but hold your horses Broncos fans.

Yes, the Broncos haven’t shown much in their 0-3 start to the preseason. Yes, Jay Cutler got the last laugh this past Sunday. Yes, Kyle Orton’s hurt and so is backup Chris Simms. Yet, I do not worry, and that is because of the new head coach that has become the scorn of many in Denver.

Let’s look back at the 2003 version of the New England Patriots, the team which McDaniels worked for from 2001-2008. While Tom Brady was able to start all 16 games, other parts of the team were decimated by injuries. 

How remarkable was it to see Troy Brown, a wide receiver, playing on both sides of the ball when he had to play in the secondary after injuries wiped out their defensive backfield. All in all, the Patriots started 42 different players during that season. McDaniels was part of that team.

The injury situation isn’t the only similarity between the two teams. Days before the regular season began that year, the Patriots cut Pro Bowl safety Lawyer Mulloy, prompting many fans to second guess head coach Bill Belichick (yes, that Bill Belichick). 

Mulloy went on to sign with division rival Buffalo, whom the Patriots faced in their season opener, and were promptly shutout by the Bills in a 31-0 shutout. Sound familiar? (For posterity, the Patriots reversed the score and shut the Bills out 31-0 in the regular season finale).

Now, I am not saying the 2009 Broncos are going to light the NFL on fire and win the Super Bowl like the 2003 Patriots. Far from it. What I am suggesting though is to give McDaniels a chance. You don’t work in one place for eight seasons and not have a significant part of that employer’s culture rub off on you. The New England system worked there, and it just might work in Denver.

I also realize the two teams were not on the same level talent-wise either, but consider this: At the start of the 2003 season, Brady was not yet the Tom Brady. He led the miracle run to the Super Bowl in 2001, but followed that up with a 9-7 no playoffs season in 2002. While I am not necessarily predicting Brady-like greatness for Orton, give him some time. He did have a better record than Cutler did after 32 starts.

Even though his title was “defensive assistant” for the Patriots in 2003, a year before he became the quarterbacks coach who turned Tom Brady into THE Tom Brady, McDaniels saw what the "team first" concept he is now bringing to Denver can do.

As part of the 2003 staff, McDaniels witnessed arguably one of Bill Belichick’s best coaching performances of his career. He was only 27 at the time, but an impression had to have been made on the young man. 

So Broncos fans, give McDaniels some time to work his magic. Let him weed out the egos and put team players in place. With some luck, maybe this season will end on a “Rocky Mountain High.”

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