Changing of the guard: Patrick Mahomes overshadows Broncos 2-0 start

A win is a win. And two wins? Well, that’s two wins, obviously.

The Denver Broncos are 2-0 and the city is giddy. Hey, why not? This has been fun, far more fun than the abysmal season everyone in the Mile High City endured last year. However, anyone who’s watched the Broncos objectively thus far isn’t confusing them with the 2015 Broncos. This team isn’t the 2012 Broncos, either. The current Seahawks aren’t their 2013 version, and these Raiders aren’t the ones Jon Gruden coached before. And that’s okay; a team can only beat the foe in front of them.

At the same time, there are plenty of undeniable positives, too.

Case Keenum, who’s been good not great, is an immense upgrade over Trevor Siemian. Plus, he’s a fighter, a leader who has battled his team to a win on two different instances now. Regardless of his numbers, it’s easy to see that Keenum can play, and that he’s the leader under center the Broncos have lacked in recent years. With any Broncos quarterback after Peyton Manning – other than Keenum – Denver is 0-2.

The Broncos can effectively run the football; the offensive line has played well and both Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman are legitimately fun the watch. Statistically, the once out-of-whack Broncos now look pretty balanced.

And while the defense has plenty of questions and concerns, it still has Von Miller. Derek Carr looked like a surgeon at times yesterday, but ultimately didn’t put too many points on the board. In their two wins, Denver’s D has only allowed 24 and 19 points respectively.

Even Vance Joseph won a challenge on a first down call that almost made a difference. Almost.

There’s a lot to be happy about on this fine, fine Monday morning at a mile high.

But here’s the bad news – the really bad news: Winning, winning ugly, a little room for improvement …none of it matters.

What should matter most to John Elway this morning didn’t take place between the lines at Broncos Stadium at Mile High. He doesn’t need to be concerned that the two teams that his Broncos have played aren’t really all that good. In fact, looking ahead to next week’s game against Baltimore – while advisable – pales in importance to the man who could (and probably should) define Elway’s roster for the next five, seven, maybe 10 years to come. They’ll see that man in Week 4.

Patrick.

Mahomes.

Yesterday in Pittsburgh, a star was born. Mahomes threw for 326 yards and six touchdowns. He was 23-28 with zero interceptions. Against the Steelers. On the road. Mahomes make Ben Roethlisberger’s 452 yards and three touchdowns obsolete, right in front of Big Ben’s biggest fans.

But this isn’t about two weeks from today, when the Broncos and Chiefs meet on Monday Night (although it could be a preview of a horror movie that could haunt the AFC West for years to come). This is about planning ahead, knowing that the division potentially now has the newest version of Philip Rivers or – ehem – John Elway.

Think about it, when a team finds a bona fide star quarterback, generally speaking the division runs through that team. It worked that way with Elway’s Broncos, Manning’s Broncos, for Montana (both in the NFC and AFC West), for Dan Marino, for Tom Brady, for Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

Now, it’s a little premature to place Mahomes in that category, but to some degree his accomplishments already have people justifiably talking. Mahomes has thrown an NFL record 10 touchdown passes this season. He stands alone with 10, but the list of players right below him (with nine) is impressive: Manning, Drew Brees and Broncos Ring of Famer Charley Johnson.

What’s the plan to stop this guy for the next decade or so?

Von Miller is a great start. And adding rookie Bradley Chubb will help, too. Derek Wolfe will be key as well. Chris Harris Jr. will be typically great, but even he might struggle trying to stop the combination of Mahomes and Tyreek Hill if he doesn’t get help. Is defensive coordinator Joe Woods the guy Elway entrusts to keep Mahomes from owning the boss’ old division?

When the Broncos were best, they did it with defense. They took Cam Newton, who was having a monster year – it was a forgone conclusion that Newton was good enough to wax the Broncos in Super Bowl 50, remember? – and derailed that train off the track immediately, perhaps permanently. There was also that run when the Denver D was designed to stop Tom Brady every time the AFC Championship Game rolled around. In two out of three seasons, it worked.

Those defenses were great though. They had guys like Demarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and Wade Phillips, who’s currently engineering the best defense in the NFL, which has moved from Denver to L.A.

Not allowing Mahomes to run roughshod over the AFC West will be paramount in Denver. A win on Monday Night Football in Week 4 would be a nice start (might has well get inside this kid’s head about Denver early), but I’d be willing to bet the Chiefs will be favored by three or more when the Vegas line opens up.

Elway is famous for saying the Broncos need to win “now” and “from now on.”

This season’s team looks good enough to win “some” now, but realistically, it’s got a ways to go before people are talking about the Broncos in the same way they’re talking about the Chiefs at the moment.

The “from now on” part gets a little trickier, particularly when it appears there’s a new sheriff in town.

And it’s not The Sheriff. That guy used to play in Denver. The new on plays for K.C.

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