Season-opening rout cramps Broncos style
DENVER ” The Denver Broncos hadn’t lost a season opener by that much since 1966. Back then, it might have been expected. In 2005, it took a lot of people by surprise.
“It was ugly. It was humid. I was tired,” cornerback Lenny Walls said, succinctly wrapping up Denver’s 34-10 loss to Miami.
The Broncos looked overmatched, unprepared and out of shape Sunday in their worst season-opening loss since a 45-7 loss to Houston nearly 40 years ago, which turned out to be the second-to-last game of the less-than-illustrious Mac Speedie coaching era in Denver.
Denver’s current coach, Mike Shanahan, watched replays of Sunday’s loss on the long flight home ” talk about a bad in-flight movie ” and gave an unflinching critique of his team, mostly his offense, on Monday.
“In thinking about my years as a head coach and years as a coordinator, I don’t know if I’ve ever been with an offense that put as much pressure on the defense as we did in that game,” he said. “We didn’t get anything going.”
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In all, Denver had nine drives over the first three quarters, only two of which lasted longer than five plays. Miami’s offense held the ball for 27 of the first 45 minutes.
No wonder the Denver defense started shutting down physically.
Walls and cornerback Darrent Williams each had to leave because of dehydration and with the rest of the defense sucking air, Miami turned a three-point lead at halftime into a runaway by the early fourth quarter.
“If you can’t get drives going and the defense is out there continuously, someone’s going to wear out sooner or later,” said Shanahan, who voiced no concerns with the way the team prepared for the stifling heat and humidity they faced in Florida.
With Champ Bailey also out with a shoulder injury, and with Roc Alexander on the inactive list, the Broncos wound up for a time with rookie Domonique Foxworth at one corner and safety Sam Brandon at the other, a position he hadn’t played regularly since high school.
“Both guys played extremely well,” Shanahan said. “I was really happy with the young corners.”
He couldn’t speak as highly of kickoff specialist Paul Ernster, a rookie whose career in Denver could be over as quickly as it started. His first two kicks went to the 5 and the 12. The worst one, though, came after a fourth-quarter touchdown pulled Denver within 20-10 and Ernster shanked one out of bounds. A play later, Miami scored another touchdown, as Marty Booker pulled away from Walls, who was cramping up.
“You hope a guy can step up in games and do it like he does it in practice,” Shanahan said of Ernster. “He hasn’t done that yet. We’ve got to make that tough decision” on whether to keep him on the roster.
Mostly, though, it was the offense that cost Denver this game.
Jake Plummer threw seven straight incompletions to start.
Ashley Lelie dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone and a couple other easy throws that came his way.
Denver spent an inordinate amount of time in the preseason working on production inside the opponent’s 20, an area that hurt the Broncos last year. In the opener, it paid off with one touchdown, one field goal, one goal-line stand by the Dolphins and Jason Taylor’s sack, strip and fumble recovery on Plummer for an 85-yard touchdown return on the last play of the game.
It was clearly the most humiliating moment of an already embarrassing day.
“Don’t beat us up about that too bad,” running back Mike Anderson said. “We’re going to correct that. Trust me. We’ve been working on it. We’re not just talking about it. Guys are dedicated to getting it done.”
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