Most years, the Denver Broncos couldn’t scramble out of the doors fast enough for a little rest and relaxation on their bye week.
That’s hardly the case this season.
The NFL’s most surprising team at 6-0, the Broncos are hesitant to put football on the back burner for a weekend, lest they lose their edge. They’d prefer to keep their foot on the gas after a convincing 34-23 win over San Diego on Monday night.
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Why would they want to get away from this?
The bye almost comes at an inconvenient time for the Broncos, who are quite mindful of keeping their momentum after building a 3 1/2-game lead over the Chargers in the AFC West.
“We’re going to stay on our P’s and Q’s and the time that we have off, we are going to use it correctly and come back ready to play,” linebacker D.J. Williams said.
Not all that long ago, the Broncos were viewed as nothing more than an entertaining soap opera as new coach Josh McDaniels kicked off his tenure by quarreling with his Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler, leading to a trade that sent Cutler to Chicago. That was followed by a suspension of talented receiver Brandon Marshall for insubordination in training camp.
But all those episodes are now a fading memory as the Broncos move to 6-0 for the fifth time in franchise history.
They have a highly efficient quarterback in Kyle Orton, a top-ranked defense fueled by veteran Brian Dawkins and the emergence of a special teams threat in Eddie Royal, who returned a punt and kickoff for touchdowns at San Diego.
This team is clicking. As for complacency creeping in with a week off, the Broncos don’t think that will be the case.
“We understand that we have a long way to go,” Orton said. “We’ve got to continue to work hard.”
Those retro uniforms with the funky socks the Broncos have been donning in recent weeks are becoming apropos.
Under McDaniels, this is almost like a throwback team, one willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
It’s a concept McDaniels ingrained in the heat of training camp when he put the players through practices in full pads a majority of the time. The approach set the groundwork for physical play, something the defense has definitely adopted.
With defensive coordinator Mike Nolan leading the resurgence, the Broncos have transformed into a top-notch defensive squad, allowing a league-low 11 points a game.
That after so many seasons in such disarray, blowing through one defensive coordinator after another.
But the players have quickly caught on to Nolan’s switch to a 3-4 look. It’s also opened things up for defensive end/linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who’s utilizing his long wing span and low leverage to shed offensive linemen and lead the league with 10 sacks.
As for the defense hounding Philip Rivers & Co. on Monday, Dumervil thought it was simply a matter of the Broncos playing with a chip on their shoulder.
The Chargers embarrassed the Broncos last season, winning 52-21 in the final game of the season. That loss completed the Broncos‘ collapse as they blew a three-game lead with three games left and allowed San Diego to steal the division title.
“There was a little extra” motivation, Dumervil admitted. “It’s a new team, a new (regime) and everything is new. We’re just trying to innovate a brand of football we’re trying to be as the Broncos … It felt good and I think guys were on the same page.”
Especially in the second half, when the defense clamped down and limited San Diego to only a field goal. The Broncos‘ ability to make second-half adjustments has been their strong suit all season, outscoring teams 76-10 in the final half.
“They’re a talented group,” Chargers coach Norv Turner said.
One that almost wishes the bye week could just be skipped this season.
“We’re just trying to not fall into the evils that can come with that,” Williams said of the hiatus. “McDaniels already told us that we’re going to have some time off, but we’re not going to take a week off and act like the season doesn’t matter.”