16 games. The season is a marathon, not a sprint.
Coaches preach these two phrases to their players privately and publicly every week of the NFL season. They expect their players to maintain a high level of energy all season and not exhaust themselves during a stretch of five or six games.
Apparently, the Denver Broncos never got the memo.
After an absolutely scintillating start to the season, a season in which the Broncos were expected to compete for a top ten draft pick, the Broncos have come crashing down to Earth. Hard.
During their magical 6-0 run to begin the 2009 campaign, the Broncos showed the poise and energy of a team bound to be one the great Cinderella stories in NFL history. After the most tumultuous offseason in team history, the Broncos were winning games in all sorts of different ways from a miraculous catch to beat the Bengals to bruising victories over the Cowboys and Patriots.
Now, after back to back losses against the Ravens and Steelers, the Broncos have fallen flat. Like a car left running with its lights on and stereo booming, it seems like the Broncos are out of juice and require a jump start.
If you want evidence of this look at the tape of the Broncos' win over the Chargers before the bye and then last week's loss to the Ravens and this week's loss to the Steelers. It seems like there were two entirely different football teams on the field. The offense was making plays all over and the defense was constantly swarming around the ball.
During last week's 30-7 loss at Baltimore, the Broncos were constantly outplayed by the Ravens and the Broncos never were able to match the energy level of their opponent. The Ravens were a desperate team and desperate teams are dangerous. The Broncos just could not keep pace with them.
Same for this week's game, especially the second half. The Broncos were once again outhustled and noticeably lacked the fire and passion that they had showed in the first half, despite trailing 7-3 going into the break. As the second half wore on, the Broncos did something previous thought inconceivable of this group of players:
Now, I don't mean that they quit as in "Oh we're screwed, let's go home." I meant that they quit because they were exhausted. it seems like they put so much effort into getting off to such a strong start in the first six games that they emotionally exhausted themselves. The team was so gung ho about proving all the doubters wrong that they forgot the season was a marathon and not a sprint.
Most fans will be pointing fingers at Kyle Orton and Josh McDaniels. They will criticize Orton for going back into shell, making boneheaded turnovers, and afraid to throw the deep ball. They will crow that McDaniels didn't vary the playbook enough during the Steeler game and that the Steelers defense was able to figure out the Broncos in the second half. Both are valid criticisms, but that isn't what's important.
What's important is how to fix it going forward. It is no longer important who did or did not do what that could have swung some key situations into the Broncos favor. The Broncos need to find out what is wrong and get better. Each player needs to look at himself and ask "what can I do better to help the team?"
As McDaniels is so fond of saying, DO YOUR JOB. As long as everyone does their job and not worry about everyone else's job, the Broncos should be able to shake out of this funk.
They don't have much of a choice. After all, the suddenly dangerous Chargers are now only one game back.
Broncos fans are beginning to feel like they have seen this before. They can only hope for a better outcome.
If there is such a thing as a perfect opportunity for a "bounce back game," the Broncos have it this weekend.
This Sunday, the Broncos travel to our nation's capital to take on the Washington Redskins, believed by many to be the worst team in the NFL. With a almost certain lame duck head coach and an inept quarterback, the Broncos should be in prime position to get back on a winning track.
For the Broncos' sake, they had better not. Otherwise, this surprising and happy season could turn tragic real quick.
Follow Kris Burke on Twitter @KBurkeNFL