Orton emerges as calm, victorious leader

Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson

DENVER -- It was Kyle Orton’s Joe Montana moment, yet he doesn’t really remember the details.

Just as the Denver Broncos were beginning their game-winning drive to defeat the New England Patriots 20-17 in overtime Sunday, Orton gathered his team in the huddle and cracked a joke. Most Denver offensive players said they don’t remember the joke, including Orton. But everyone who was asked smiled while they pleaded ignorance about the punch line.

“It may have been a little too dirty to reveal,” Orton said, laughing.

It evoked memories of Montana pointing to a video image of actor John Candy in the stands from the huddle during San Francisco’s game-winning drive against Cincinnati in Super Bowl XXIII.

So, is Orton Joe Cool?

“Well, I knew there was no need to be nervous,” Orton said. “Not with the team we have and the belief we all have in each other.”

When Denver won the coin flip to start overtime, Denver center Casey Wiegmann said Orton went down the sideline and reminded his offensive teammates that they may only get one chance to win. They took advantage.

After taking over at their 20, the Broncos went 58 yards in 11 plays in 4:51 to set up a 41-yard Matt Prater field goal to beat New England. Orton completed four of six passes for 31 yards on the drive. Orton, a throw-in of Denver’s blockbuster trade of Jay Cutler to Chicago, had his biggest day as a Bronco. He completed 35 of 48 passes for 330 yards.

The Broncos, who have won three games in final seconds, including the past two on the final play, are now 5-0 and the story of the NFL. Skeptics argued that Denver wouldn’t be considered for real until Orton proved he can win a game. He just did.

He out Brady-ed Tom Brady. Brady had to sit during overtime and watch Orton perfectly execute New England’s offense under the guidance of first-year Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, the Patriots’ former offensive coordinator. Brady had a chance to win the game in regulation and couldn’t. In overtime, Orton didn't give Brady another chance.

“He’s the perfect New England-type quarterback,” Broncos receiver Jabar Gaffney, a former Patriot, said of Orton. “He ran that offense the way it is supposed to be run.”

As unlikely as Denver’s start is, is that Orton is the leader.

Just as the Denver players bought into McDaniels, they have bought into Orton. Sure, he isn’t the physical presence that Cutler is, nor does he have the big arm Cutler has. But he is a smart quarterback who doesn’t make mistakes. He threw his first interception of the season Sunday. But he should get a mulligan. It came on a Hail Mary to end the first half.

“The guy doesn’t make mistakes,” Wiegmann said. “We have total confidence in him as our quarterback.”

Orton is 26-12 as a starter in the NFL. In Chicago, he rode a strong defense, which has been the case so far in Denver. But he made the plays that counted Sunday as Denver rallied from 10-0 and 17-7 deficits.

Orton led a 98-yard drive to tie the score at 17-17 with 5:21 to go in the fourth quarter, hitting Brandon Marshall for an 11-yard pass.

The drive wasn’t as important as John Elway’s 98-yard drive against Cleveland to send the Broncos to Super Bowl in 1987, but there is some Super Bowl relevance here. This is the fifth time in Denver’s history it has started 5-0. It went to the Super Bowl the first four times.

The way the Broncos are playing defense (they have allowed a league-low 43 points and shackled Brady in key moments), they have to be considered a strong AFC contender if Orton continues to play well. The keys are his continued working relationship with Marshall and fellow receiver Eddie Royal.

Royal had a breakout game with 10 catches for 90 yards. Seven of his catches were for first downs, including four in the fourth quarter and overtime. Marshall, who seems to be over his feud with the team, had two touchdown receptions and has caught touchdowns in the past three games.

“Kyle is finding us and we are making plays,” Royal said. “It’s going great.”

It didn’t seem possible after Cutler was traded. It didn’t seem possible after Orton was booed in a scrimmage, his first appearance in his new stadium as a Bronco. It didn’t seem possible when Orton threw interceptions on his first three series of the preseason and some were calling for his head.

But Orton and the Broncos are showing anything is possible -- even Montana and Elway comparisons on the same afternoon.