BRONCOS

Sunday’s Manning tribute should serve as a wakeup call for Paton

Oct 28, 2021, 8:19 PM
Peyton Manning...
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

This Sunday against the Washington Football Team, the Broncos will honor another legend in their history when they induct Peyton Manning into their Ring of Fame. Manning is at the very top of the list of most-important figures in Broncos history.

Just like Mike Shanahan’s Ring of Fame induction was a reminder of the winning standards we used to have in Denver, Manning’s induction will be a celebration of a time when the Broncos understood that an elite quarterback is the most-important ingredient to winning in the NFL.

Manning’s career in Denver yielded four straight AFC Championships, two Super Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl win in Super Bowl 50. Before Manning arrived in 2012, the Broncos hadn’t had a winning season since 2006.

Since Manning retired following the 2015 season, the Broncos have been a revolving door at quarterback. What has become an ongoing joke, at some point during every Broncos game on TV, we are shown a graphic of all the quarterbacks that the Broncos have started

Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen, Drew Lock, Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien and Teddy Bridgewater have all started behind center for the Broncos. That’s 10 quarterbacks (11 if you count the Kendall Hinton mess).

As the tribute video to Manning plays, hopefully George Paton is paying attention. Since Manning’s retirement, the Broncos have refused to acknowledge that the quarterback is vital to success in the NFL.

The Broncos dismissive attitude toward the position has led to four-consecutive losing seasons and five seasons of missing the playoffs. In 2021, the Broncos are likely to miss the playoffs and are staring down a fifth-straight losing season. Once again, we are talking about next season by midseason.

While the rest of the NFL, specifically the AFC, have been focusing on finding their quarterback of the future, the Broncos have defiantly refused to follow suit.

The Broncos decision to ignore the most-important position on the roster is puzzling because the Broncos have never had continued success without a Hall of Fame quarterback. The Broncos went to the Super Bowl in 1977, but that was a season that stood by itself.

Under Mike Shanahan, John Fox and Gary Kubiak, the Broncos had winning records with less than ideal quarterback situations, but they were not able to crack the top teams in the NFL unless they had John Elway or Peyton Manning. Those seasons were a testament to how good each of those three coaches were at leading a team. The current coaching staff is not quality enough to overcome a quarterback deficiency.

With Elway and Manning, the Broncos have played in seven Super Bowls. Without Elway and Manning, the Broncos played in one Super Bowl and one AFC Championship.

Since 2015, the Broncos have tried to convince fans (and themselves) that building a defense is the way to win a Super Bowl. The Broncos continue to stubbornly march out this strategy even though it has yielded nothing but losing seasons.

Right now, Vic Fangio has become the face of Broncos fans’ disdain for the current product. Fangio has been bad, but the problem existed before Fangio. The Broncos were already three years deep into the “starting a backup quarterback” carousel. Fangio was just a guy that allowed the organization to continue to lie to itself.

That’s where Paton got off on the wrong foot in Denver. He tried to give Fangio the defense he could win with this season. The problem is, there was already evidence this philosophy didn’t work. Prior to 2021, the Broncos had five-consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs following the “don’t worry about quarterback, we’ll build a defense” approach.

It’s almost hilarious that Paton agreed to continue this charade that clearly fails almost every time.

Paton should have immediately shifted the Broncos approach. Fangio is unlikely to retain his job after 2021, but focusing on the quarterback would have put Fangio in a better position to succeed in 2021.

The most-successful stretch of the Fangio era was when he started Drew Lock in 2019. The Broncos were 4-1 with Lock and the season was considered a success. Nobody cared the Broncos finished 7-9 because there was optimism. It was with a young quarterback, not an elite defense, that Fangio found his best success in Denver. Lock proved to not be the guy, but the strategy behind Lock was correct.

Had the Broncos drafted Mac Jones, they could have started him. The win/loss record becomes irrelevant. If Mac Jones had come to Denver and proved to be a quarterback the Broncos can move forward with, then that would have been a successful season and Fangio would have been more likely to remain in charge.

Patrick Surtain was not a bad draft pick. Far from it. Surtain is the best player on the Broncos defense. And with Jerry Jeudy, he’s probably the best player on the team. However, Surtain doesn’t change the Broncos current outlook on the future. Until the quarterback situation is figured out, a top cornerback is nice, but not going to do much in the standings.

Between Elway and Manning, the best player on the Broncos was Champ Bailey. Bailey is an all-time great and Hall of Fame player, but with Bailey as their best player, it was difficult for the Broncos to be a consistent Super Bowl contender. Worth noting, Bailey didn’t play in a Super Bowl until Peyton Manning came to Denver.

The Broncos won only two playoff games between Elway and Manning. They defeated the Patriots in 2005 and the Steelers in 2011. Each game exhibits some of the biggest plays in Broncos history.

The 2005 victory over the Patriots had Bailey’s 99-yard interception return of Tom Brady. Meanwhile, 2011 had the walk-off overtime touchdown pass from Tim Tebow to Demaryius Thomas.

What’s ignored about both those games is that the Broncos were blown out the following week in both cases. Oddly enough in 2005, they were blown out by the Steelers. In 2011, they were blown out by the Patriots.

Without an elite quarterback, or at least elite quarterback play, every team has a ceiling. You can’t win a Super Bowl with a great defense. You can win a Super Bowl with an all-time great defense, but those are outliers. The 1985 Bears, 2000 Ravens, 2002 Buccaneers, 2013 Seahawks and 2015 Broncos are rarities and not easily duplicated. Attempting to replicate an outlier is a losing formula and the Broncos for whatever reason fail to realize this.

As Peyton Manning highlights make us all feel great, let’s hope that George Paton is paying attention. He got off to a bad start in Denver by attempting to continue something that has proven to fail.

After this season, it’s likely every piece of the organization above Paton (ownership) and below him (coaching staff) will change. This upcoming offseason, it’s on Paton to right the wrong that he perpetuated in 2021.

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