Standing on the sideline, doing absolutely nothing, all dressed up in his Broncos uniform, but with nowhere to go, Von Miller represented all the pent-up frustration in this undefeated yet unimpressive Denver football team.
“I’m impatient,” Miller said Sunday, after the Broncos made a late goal-line stand and escaped with a 24-17 victory against Kansas City. “But you’ve got to be able to chill.”
This city populated with Broncomaniacs won’t relax until a team that looks like a bona fide championship contender shows up.
Late in the fourth quarter, with the Chiefs marching toward the goal line for a tying touchdown and the Denver needing in the worst way to make a defensive stand, the uptight crowd of 76,900 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High turned to Miller for signs of reassurance, only to find him standing on the sideline, benched for the key drive while he nursed a sore groin muscle he tweaked earlier in the game.
“It was tough … but I feel like it was the right decision. Maybe if something would have happened (and K.C. scored) maybe I would’ve been feeling 10 times worse, like, ‘Man, I should have dragged my butt out there and played.’ But we made a great defensive stop,” said Miller, the last player on the team to dress in the locker room after getting treatment for his injury.
The Broncos didn’t beat the Chiefs so much as they endured a dog-day, late-summer afternoon filled with stupid mistakes, another frittered lead and anxious moments.
“We’re beating ourselves, and making it harder for us. Once we stop beating ourselves, having dumb penalties and dumb missed assignments, we should be good,” Denver cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said.
There are no bad 2-0 NFL teams. The Broncos, however, are both positively undefeated and alarmingly mediocre.
When quarterback Peyton Manning stands idle for 42 minutes, as he did from halftime through a 19-play drive by Kansas City to open the third quarter, this Denver team looks extremely vulnerable and very much susceptible to the same meltdown witnessed in the Super Bowl loss to Seattle.
Yes, Denver has found a way to get it done when faced with fierce late-game rallies by Andrew Luck of Indianapolis and Alex Smith of Kansas City. But the way the Broncos played during two home dates won’t get it done on the road against the angry Seahawks, who lost to San Diegoon Sunday.
The way this Denver defense has played is far more reminiscent of the patch-and-pray lineup employed by defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio in 2013 rather than the tough, intimidating unit we all expected after the expensive remodeling job done by general manager John Elway, who spent big on T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware.
What the Broncos are waiting for is a dominating defensive identity to emerge. Denver is waiting for Miller to become the Vonster again.
“We want to go out there and play dominant defense like nobody’s ever seen before. That’s the goal … It’s possible. And that’s what we aim for doing. But if we’re taking steps in that direction, we’ll be OK with that,” said Miller, who made his first quarterback sack since suffering a severe knee injury last season.
His personal goal? “I want to be like: ‘Boom!’ I want to be out there, killing it,” Miller said.
In one of the toughest weeks in league history, which saw the NFL sicken America once the Ray Rice video emerged, insult fans with weak leadership from commissioner Roger Goodell and shock us all with child abuse charges brought against Adrian Peterson, players did agree to meaningful reform of drug policies that brought football into the 21st century, acknowledging that human growth hormone might be more dangerous to the game’s integrity than marijuana.
In the middle of that important discussion was Miller, who represented the Broncos during the drug-reform vote. “If you had a resume to put in for that position, I definitely had some things that qualified me,” said Miller, who served a six-game suspension to begin the 2013 season after he violated the league’s substance-abuse policies.
Growth can be painful to watch. Growth is seldom a straight line. Growth requires patience, which is especially tough in the bottom-line business of sports.
But here’s what the Broncos must hope: It’s not where Miller and this team is now. It’s how much they all grow between now and the Super Bowl.