Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning talks to the media after NFL football practice at the team's training facility in Englewood, Colo., on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. The Broncos are scheduled to play the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2.
By Gene Collier / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
NEW YORK -- You can conceptualize, create, nurture and dress up the No. 1 offense in the NFL for the ecstatic enjoyment of the adoring home audience, and you can take the whole show on the road and win consistently in this league, but casting it for the Super Bowl somehow remains a dubious notion.
In fact, you might be terribly disappointed, as in the worst disappointment of your professional life.
Yeah, that’s all.
This narrow slice of unsolicited historical instruction for the Denver Broncos comes from a largely unexamined area of Super Bowl ambiance, that cold, foggy place where virtually unstoppable offenses designed by the greatest football physicists of their eras have so spectacularly crashed and burned.
“The offense we were running before Tim [Tebow was the quarterback] was a traditional offense,” said Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, describing some rapid post-modern evolution. “It was a break-off of what we were doing with Josh [McDaniels] and then it became Mike McCoy with his background, and a little bit of my background went into it in the passing game.
“We were kind of a big melting pot of stuff, then all of a sudden we had to make that switch [when Tebow left] and we basically said, ‘All this stuff goes in the back of the playbook,’ so we developed all this other stuff.
“Then Peyton [Manning] came in, and it was like, ‘Here’s Indy’s book,’ and we just combined it all together and we just had to mess around with the formations. Peyton was great because he was trying to make it so Demaryius [Thomas] and [Eric] Decker weren’t learning 1,000 new things. When I took over, I could do a little bit of whatever I wanted to do differently.”
The result was a record-smashing 606 points as the bottom line on probably the best NFL offense ever, all of it subject to a potentially vaporizing review here Sunday by the Seattle Seahawks, whose play without the ball is practically the statistical equal of Denver’s unprecedented offensive cadenza.
But it’s not as though the Broncos are definitively doomed by history. Their fans certainly remember the San Francisco 49ers parading the No. 1 offense down Bourbon Street for Super Bowl XXIV, then letting Joe Montana turn it loose to scorch Denver, 55-10. Under Steve Young five years later, a No. 1 49ers offense did it again, skunking San Diego, 49-26, with Montana’s one-time understudy throwing a record six touchdown passes.
But in 21 trips to the Super Bowl overall, the top-scoring team in the league has won only 10 times, including:
• When a Washington Redskins outfit that averaged 34 points a game managed exactly 9 against the then-Los Angeles Raiders, and lost by an unthinkable 29 points.
• When an undefeated New England Patriots team that had rung up a video-game total of 589 points, most in NFL history until Denver’s 606 this year, scored only 14 against the New York Giants and lost on a Plaxico Burress catch in the final minutes.
• When the Seattle Seahawks (yes, Matt Hasselbeck ran the No. 1 offense in the league in 2005), in their only previous appearance in the Super Bowl, scored only 10 points to the Steelers’ 21. Many of those same Steelers would, just three years later, comprise the lowest-rated offense (20th) to win a Super Bowl, toppling the Arizona Cardinals, whose offense was ranked third.
Even without any of this being made obvious to them, the Broncos were the team that seemed to be fighting itself mentally this week. They didn’t much like doing interviews on a boat behind their hotel, and they didn’t appear to be taking any enjoyment from the annual spectacle.
“I’m trying to keep my emotions in check,” said Pro Bowl guard Louis Vasquez, part of the repaired contingent that has kept Manning on his feet this entire postseason.
“There’s a lot going on, this being Super Bowl week, being in the biggest city in America already, and now the Super Bowl being there, and there’s just so much happening. I’ve got to mentally keep myself focused on the goal you have at hand.
“That’s probably my biggest challenge, keeping everything in order, everything small-focused, preparing for the ultimate game.”
This is where it gets sticky, right?
You’re trying to keep everything small for something that is in every way big, when all you really want as one of the Denver Broncos is to do what you do. What the Broncos do, typically, is pile up 457 yards and 38 points across four quarters, something nobody else can do.
And all it’s done is put them in a very tenuous position.
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