DENVER -- It was an early-week practice as the Denver Broncos staggered out of their bye and into the second half of the season with a 2-6 record. Denver coach Josh McDaniels felt like his beleaguered team needed a boost. His solution? Go straight to the top of the franchise’s food chain.
Paging No. 7.
McDaniels asked legendary Broncos quarterback John Elway to address the team. To the best of the knowledge of several long-time Denver officials, it was the first time Elway had addressed the team as a whole since he retired in 1999 after winning Super Bowl titles in his final two seasons.
Elway broached several subjects with the players, who knelt on the practice field and listened intently. Among the topics: Elway’s travails in Denver, and the need to try to win on a daily basis and to enjoy the moment. Elway, 50, told players he still occasionally wishes he had the opportunity to play again and that they needed to seize the moment and not waste their opportunity as NFL players.
At one point, Elway asked players to raise their hands if they would be relieved to win against the Chiefs on Sunday. When several players raised their hands, he said that was the wrong attitude to take. He said winning teams are built during the week and hard work is the key. Elway works for the Broncos as a marketing spokesman and he is interested in becoming a part owner of the team. He has been a presence at some practices this season.
“This is a Hall of Fame player, a two-time Super Bowl champion, this is the biggest name in team history,” Denver safety Renaldo Hill said. “I wanted to hear every word this man said.”
Clearly, Elway’s words sank in. Denver went out and played its best game of the season and one of its best games of the 25-game McDaniels era in a 49-29 victory over Kansas City on Sunday. Denver quarterback Kyle Orton, who threw for 296 yards and four touchdowns, said he wasn’t sure if Elway’s message played a direct role in the blowout, but he said it certainly set up the team for a confident week.
It’s clear Denver came out with a strong focus Sunday. In one of the more surprising games of the season, the Broncos jumped out to a 35-0 lead in the second quarter. The game was never close.
The result is a jumbled AFC West.
The Chiefs have crashed back to earth in the past two weeks. They are 5-4 after losing in overtime at Oakland and this debacle. The Chiefs could have had a commanding 2.5-game lead in the division last week. Now, they are tied with Oakland for first place with seven games to go. San Diego, which has won two consecutive games, is lurking a game behind at 4-5. Denver is two games behind at 3-6. It is sure to be a wild finish in the division.
This game was Kansas City’s worst game of the season by far. In its three previous losses, Kansas City competed hard and could have easily won each game. It was hammered Sunday by Denver.
“It’s very tough,” Kansas City cornerback Brandon Carr said.
Kansas City coach Todd Haley wasn’t pleased, either. He appeared to have terse words for McDaniels during an extremely brief meeting at midfield after the game. Haley pointed his finger at McDaniels and then walked away. It appeared that the two did not shake hands. Haley wouldn’t address the situation after the game and the Broncos said all postgame exchanges are private matters. Many Denver starters played the whole game even though it was never close.
I’m sure Haley will have his team ready to play Denver when it visits Kansas City in three weeks. Still, I’m also sure the exchange with Haley did not ruin McDaniels’ day. He needed this win. The last time Denver played at home, it was humiliated 59-14 by Oakland. McDaniels was booed as he left the field after the game and he apologized for the loss. He had been berated publicly in Denver since that game. The fact that Denver bounced back with the second-most points in a game in team history will buy time for McDaniels in the eyes of some fans.
Denver was clearly ready to play despite having the distraction of middle linebacker D.J. Williams being arrested for suspicion of drunk driving at 2:50 a.m. Friday. Williams didn’t play the first series Sunday. He also was fined heavily and was stripped of his captaincy. Still, Denver wasn’t bothered by anything Sunday.
It ran for a season-high 153 yards. The offensive line, which is finally healthy, played well and the defense had had four sacks. It had nine in its first eight games. Even Tim Tebow got into the act. The rookie backup quarterback was on the field for three plays. He ran for a touchdown on one play and threw for a touchdown on another other -- his first NFL pass.
Everything worked for Denver on a day it muddled the AFC West race. Perhaps this one was for John.
“John really fired me up,” Hill said. “He has what I want and that's championships. It was great hearing him talk about how to do it.”