Gasp! 5-0 start began in ‘dog days’ for Broncos |

Gasp! 5-0 start began in ‘dog days’ for Broncos

Mike Klis
the denver post
Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15) dives into the end zone for a touchdown between New England Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo (51) and cornerback Leigh Bodden (23) during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 11, 2009, in Denver. The touchdown tied the game which Denver won in overtime, 20-17. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

As the players huffed, puffed, gasped and sucked every ounce of oxygen available at 5,280 feet of elevation, their coaches kept telling them to put their growing lung capacity in the bank.

Save it for the fourth quarter, the coaches said. The players would run during the outset of minicamp practices. The coaches encouraged: Save it for when everybody is tired, the outcome is in the balance, and the other side is gasping just a little bit more.

The players would run even more at the end of practice. Go! Conditioning coach Rich Tuten would bark. Huff, huff, huff, huff.

In training camp, they would run twice in the morning, twice more in the afternoon. Always they would run in full pads. Huff, huff. Put it in the bank, the coaches said.

Then came the regular season and the five-week statement on their return: The Broncos have yet to allow a single point in the third quarter. Counting Matt Prater’s overtime field goal to beat the New England Patriots last Sunday, the Broncos have demolished their five opponents by a combined 59-7 after halftime.

The Broncos didn’t put their conditioning in the bank. There’s not an offshore account in the Cayman Islands that can promise a 52-point differential in five weeks.

“A lot of attention is paid to our conditioning,” Broncos defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday said. “As a veteran player, I hate it. We do a lot of running, a lot of cardio work. But it helps us. If coach implements something, and it works, you can’t complain too much about it.”

This from a player who missed the Broncos’ offseason conditioning program and training camp. In Holliday’s defense, he kept himself in such great shape while he was waiting for employment, he could keep up with the other Broncos pretty much from the day he signed about five weeks ago.

And the conditioning hasn’t eased up much since the season began.

“I felt like our conditioning, certainly, has played a role in our ability to play better football in the second half than what we have played in the first half,” Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said.

Increased conditioning explains some of the Broncos’ second-half dominance, but if that’s all it was, Jim Ryun and Marty Liquori would have been football superstars.

While fans stand in long lines at the nearest restroom and popcorn stand, wisdom is circulating through the Broncos’ halftime locker room.

McDaniels has explained that sometimes a halftime adjustment is not about doing something new, but discarding through trial and error a formation or play that didn’t work in the first half.

The Broncos outscoring the Pats 13-0 after halftime, for instance.

“We didn’t change a whole lot,” McDaniels said. “There were a few minor things that we talked about doing, but for the most part, we really missed some opportunities in the first half offensively and needed to do a better job of communicating, getting lined up and playing the right call defensively.”

In the past two weeks, the Broncos fell behind 10-0 against both the Patriots and Dallas Cowboys. The Broncos came back late to beat them both.

Beneath the lopsided second-half scores, the Broncos have outgained their opponents by an average of 131.4 yards in the second half. Their defense has allowed only two of 31 third-down conversions – none in their past three games – after halftime.

In the first half, quarterback Kyle Orton is completing 56.3 percent of his passes and has an 82.4 passer rating. He has a 70.8 percentage and 117.1 rating in the second half.

Elvis Dumervil has seven of his team-high eight sacks in the second half.

“It’s not about one quarter or two quarters, it’s about being able to have that motor for four quarters,” Dumervil said.

The Broncos have been outscored 26-17 in the first quarter. They are 5-0 overall. To date, the answer to their success is in the math.

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