Many critics wanted to put the blame on Peyton Manning for the offense’s lack of production throughout the first three quarters of Sunday’s AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Manning is, after all, the captain of the offense and the greatest passer in NFL history; just two years ago he did lead the Broncos offense to the greatest single season of offense in the history of the league. Blaming Manning is just part of the equation, though.
In his first start in two calendar months, Manning’s Broncos had posted just 12 points through three quarters against the Steelers on Sunday and had punted or turned the ball over on downs six times. Three of their scoring drives in that time started at the Denver 47-yard line or better. While Pittsburgh was turning in big plays on seemingly every drive, the Broncos did not have a single play of more than 20 yards until the 13:15 mark of the fourth quarter.
Denver’s struggles on offense are nothing new; they’ve failed to put up big numbers all season long. Sunday was the ninth time this season that Denver scored 23 points or less. As a team, including the seven starts with Brock Osweiler at quarterback, they’ve thrown four less touchdowns (19) than interceptions (23) and they failed to eclipse the 4,000-yard team passing mark for the first time in the Manning era.
On Sunday against Pittsburgh, it was much of the same problem that has plagued the Broncos passing game all year. Receivers were dropping passes and Manning wasn’t putting the ball in their hands with any pace. Adding to the problem was that Denver struggled to convert on third down. They ended the day just 3-for-15 as a team.
No one on the offense had a great day – Manning, the running backs or the receivers – and Manning’s critics were quite vocal, but the receivers caught their fair share of heat for, well, not catching the ball. And to be fair, the running backs each accounted for crucial drops themselves.
Despite the struggles, there were some clutch catches by the Denver wideouts on Sunday. Emmanuel Sanders had a 34-yard catch that flipped the field before Pittsburgh fumbled on their ensuing possession. Bennie Fowler converted a huge third down on Denver’s touchdown drive. And Demaryius Thomas pulled in the two-point conversion that would put the Broncos up for good.
In a game that didn’t have great performances from either the offense or the defense (who gave up almost 400 yards of their own), the receivers did just enough to help pull out the win.
Here’s what some members of the MHS team and some of our favorite follows from the Denver media had to say about the pass catchers and their tough day…
— Marcello Romano (@celloromano) January 17, 2016
Six drops, by my count. No third-down conversions for the offense. Just a mess.
— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) January 17, 2016
Yet another drop by the Broncos, this one on 4th down. Emmanuel Sanders lets a first down slip through his hands.
— SI NFL (@si_nfl) January 17, 2016
Wonder if they have jugs machines in the locker room for the #Broncos pass catchers to use at halftime?
— Eric Goodman (@EricGoodman) January 17, 2016
You can't win a big boy game by kicking field goals and dropping 6 passes. #PITvsDEN
— Sean Walsh (@seanwalshsports) January 17, 2016
Hey Fowler made a catch….weird
— mark schlereth (@markschlereth) January 17, 2016
Peyton is 8-for-17 for 79 yards. rating 60.7. very misleading. on the money on 6 throws dropped by receivers..
— Lionel Bienvenu (@lionelbienvenu) January 17, 2016
I hope manning rips his guys a new one. Never mind kicking and screaming. This is choking and gagging
— Darren McKee (@dmac1043) January 17, 2016
#Broncos no huddle for 3 straight 1st downs. Huddled and Manning sacked.
— Mark Haas (@markhaastv) January 17, 2016
Broncos offense officially more painful to watch right now than the presidential debates. #PITvsDEN
— cover32 Broncos (@cover32_DEN) January 18, 2016
With 7 drops by Broncos receivers this game starting to remind me of Manning "commercial" on SNL: "I can't even look at you right now!"
— Mark Kiszla (@markkiszla) January 18, 2016
#Broncos offense looks like this next week, they get rolled at home.
— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) January 18, 2016
There's your #kickingandscreaming. Broncos dug down for the drive they needed & the defense finished it off.
— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) January 18, 2016
There was a small pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for at least one Broncos receiver, though. Demaryius Thomas moved into the record books on Sunday…
For what it's worth … Demaryius Thomas became Denver's all-time leader with playoff receptions on that last catch. Passed Rod Smith, w/ 50
— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) January 18, 2016