The intensity leading up to the NFL Monday Night Football match-up between the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons has had an air of magic all week long. Peyton Manning takes his new team on the road for the first time and Matt Ryan had just completed a masterful performance a week earlier against the Kansas City Chiefs. Most would say that these two teams are a mirror image of each other with quality QB play, excellent WRs and above average defenses. Yet, just a minute and forty seconds into the game, the Falcons scored a TD after a INT from Manning and the pace was set for a 27-21 Denver loss.
Thirty seconds later and Manning throws another INT and the Broncos found themselves in a hole that was almost impossible to dig out of. Or was it? With the Broncos down 10-0 John Fox showed just why he is an excellent head coach, when he was knowledgeable to know he could throw a challenge flag on a tipped ball when the referees called a pass interference. That reversal forced the Falcons to punt for the first time instead of continue with a first down. Yet, the orange and blue could not capitalize as their drive was stalled. The Broncos offense and defense both came out flat and confused in that first quarter as assignments were missed and the noise hindered the Broncos no-huddle to work its magic.
So in turn, the Broncos decided to ride their horse Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno which began well until Moreno fumbled for the Broncos fourth turnover of the quarter. Four turnovers, two reversed calls, a ten minute melee after Moreno’s fumble and a lot of referee confusion turned this NFL game ugly real quick for the Broncos. So here are the basic grades when looking at your Denver Broncos against the Atlanta Falcons in a game that was not really as close as the score would indicate:
Quarterback: D Manning looked every bit his 36 years of age after a good showing in week one. The no-huddle could not flow under the crowd noise and his three picks did not help. Very Tebow-esque in some of his throws. Somehow getting the Broncos in a position to win is the only reason he does not have an F here. Enough said.
Running Backs: B+ Yes, McGahee had over 100yds and a 2TDs, but the fumble by Moreno and the lack of consistency did not help early on. But McGahee is the one to stand out in the fourth quarter as giving the Broncos a chance to get back in the game.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C Nine different receivers were targeted by Manning, but with the exception of a beautiful TD catch and a couple of extended runs by Demaryius Thomas, this unit was neutralized. I get the fact that Brandon Stokley made a couple of good grabs, but none were game changing in the long run. Joel Dreesen and Jacob Tamme were ineffective and there were a lot of dropped balls.
Offensive Line: C+ This unit is a mixed bag tonight. They allowed McGahee the holes to run through, but at the same time, they looked very confused early on when Manning was trying to settle into the no-huddle. The noise at the Georgia Dome was incredible and the O-line must be ready for hostile environments. Atlanta showed a 9 man front for most of the night with so much motion it was making me dizzy. I could only imagine what it was doing to this line.
Defensive Line: B+ The D-line held the Falcons run game in check for most of the game and although they did not get their first sack on Ryan until the fourth quarter, they made Ryan make quite a few rushed throws. The bad thing is that Ryan was good enough to find the open receivers on the other end.
Linebackers: C This unit was harassed all day by Tony Gonzalez and did not do much throughout the game to stand out.
Secondary: D Champ Bailey, Tracy Porter, Mike Adams and anyone else the Broncos sent out there were just embarrassed by the way Ryan repeatedly found his man open and able to extend the play. There were several times when an INT could have been had, but the ball always eluded their grasp. This unit was supposed to be the strength behind the pass rush up front, but through the first two games, looks terrible.
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