|12-18-2006, 01:38 PM||#1|
Ring of Famer
Join Date: May 2001
On Sunday, Jay Cutler provided evidence for Mike Shanahan's faith in his abilities
“I think he gives us our best chance to win now.”
Those have been the 11 most talked about words in Denver for the past 20 days, ever since Mike Shanahan uttered them to the media when explaining why he had decided to bench quarterback Jake Plummer in favor of rookie Jay Cutler. They were the head coach’s rationale for one of the most peculiar midseason moves in recent NFL history, benching a veteran in favor of an inexperienced signal caller, when his Broncos were 7-4 and in the driver’s seat for a wild card playoff berth. From that moment on, the debate has raged – did Shanahan panic by putting in Cutler or had the Broncos gone as far as they could with Plummer under center?
Through the first two games of the Cutler era, those falling on the Plummer side of the fence were armed with all of the ammo. Playing an extremely conservative game plan, the Broncos gave away the game against the Seahawks in Cutler’s debut, letting Seattle roll out of Denver with a 23-20 victory. And a week later, the rookie and his teammates were dispatched by the San Diego Chargers, a team who emphatically staked their claim as the new kings of the AFC West.
But in the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend.” Two games were not enough to accurately evaluate the move, dismiss Cutler’s ability or write off the Broncos season. There was still plenty of time for Denver to salvage the season, with their rookie quarterback leading the way. And they demonstrated just that on Sunday.
In what can only be described as their best offensive performance of the season, if not multiple seasons, the Broncos dominated the Arizona Cardinals from start to finish, heading back to the Mile High City with a 37-20 victory. As a result, they are once again in the driver’s seat for one of the last two playoff spots in the AFC, needing to only win their final two games at home in order to clinch a berth.
While the fact that the victory positioned Denver for a realistic shot at getting into the postseason is important, it wasn’t the biggest development on the field at University of Phoenix Stadium. The development of their rookie quarterback, a gunslinger who came of age in front of our very eyes, was the day’s major story.
Cutler outshined his rookie counterpart, the Cardinals Matt Leinart, on the day, and provided a glimpse of the Broncos future in the process. The rookie showed that he has the cannon to bring the big play back into Denver’s offense, the vision to include everyone in the game plan and the smarts to fully execute Shanahan’s intricate offense. This trio of accomplishments is reason for grand optimism, as the Broncos have discovered their, dare I say it, heir apparent.
On Denver’s third offensive play, Cutler took the snap, rolled left, planted his feet and in the face of two onrushing defenders heaved the ball down the middle of the field. The ball traveled 65 yards in the air, flew over two Cardinals defenders and landed perfectly in Javon Walker’s hands, hitting the Broncos big-play wide receiver in stride for a 54-yard touchdown. This quick-strike capability is something Denver has been missing for years, as neither Plummer nor his predecessors – Brian Griese, Gus Frerotte and Danny Kanell, etc. – possessed the arm strength of Cutler.
It was the first of five completions to Walker, one of seven Broncos to catch the ball on the day. Cutler also threw a touchdown pass to Rod Smith, five passes to wide receiver Brandon Marshall, three completions to tight end Tony Scheffler, a pair of passes to running back Tatum Bell, and one ball each to Nate Jackson and Kyle Johnson. The rapport he’s showing with Marshall and Scheffler, two fellow rookies, is most encouraging, as the Broncos pass-catching combos of the future are developing more each week.
Perhaps more impressive than Cutler’s ability to deliver a big strike or throw the ball all over the field is the rookie’s command of the game. He appears to be in complete control in the huddle, unfazed by the rapid-fire pace of the NFL. And he seems to be able to execute the entire playbook, as the Broncos offense seemed the most Shanahan-esque it has been in many moons. Denver ran, passed, went deep and threw short. Their offense was unpredictable and multifaceted, a trademark of Shanahan’s past juggernauts. Five weeks ago, the Broncos were easy to defend, as Plummer was either going to throw short or waggle right. Now, they’re fun to watch and a lot harder to predict.
If the Broncos offense is clicking, they are a dangerous foe. When Shanahan can get the match-ups he covets and have his quarterback exploit them, he’s among the most lethal offensive minds in football. As a result, Denver has a puncher’s chance from here on out, no matter the opponent of venue.
“You saw what he could do today,” said the Broncos head coach after the game about his rookie quarterback, with a twinge of satisfaction. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out this guy is very composed, can make all the throws and plays with a lot of confidence.”
Maybe not. But it took one to pull the trigger 20 days ago and turn the Broncos promising future into an exciting present. As a result, there’s still hope in the Mile High City in 2006. With Cutler at the helm, anything seems possible.
|12-18-2006, 02:04 PM||#2|
Ring of Famer
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: St Augustine, FL
Here's to more games like this!