When Kyle Orton went down with a sprained ankle on the last offensive play of the first half against the Redskins, my friend and game-time text-exchanger, Jesse Hope, texted me: “Did you ever think you’d be this scared about losing Orton to injury?”
For once, I played the optimist.
“[Backup Chris] Simms is pretty solid,” I responded. “We’ll see what happens.” What happened? After Orton led the Broncos offense to 17 first-half points, including two first-quarter touchdown bombs to Brandon Marshall for 40 and 75 yards, Simms managed a less than meager 3 of 13 for 13 yards and an interception.
Behind Simms in the second half, the Donkeys got blanked, and lost the game 27-17.
After losing three straight and letting the Chargers back into the race for the AFC West, the Broncos needed this one against a struggling Redskins team, who were playing without franchise running back Clinton Portis. Instead, the Broncos gave a textbook display on how to let a bad team beat you: turnovers (lost the turnover battle 2-0), special teams follies, and an injured starting quarterback.
The low point came half way through the second quarter. The Redskins faced a 4th and 20 from the Broncos 35, lined up for a field goal, audibled to a pooch punt formation and…called a time out.
Josh McDaniels: Why on earth would a team call a timeout after audibling out of a field goal formation?
Oh. The Redskins come out of the timeout, and again, line up for a field goal. Again, they audible to the pooch punt formation. And…oops, punter Hunter Smith took the snap, wandered to the right, and heaved it to his left, for a 35-yard touchdown pass.
Unacceptable. This was the real turning point in the game, and possibly, the season – the transformation from Broncos to Donkeys.
On the ensuing drive, the Donkeys drove 82 yards, using the last 6:25 left in the half, and on the last play, Orton got his legs caught under a Redskins defender and limped off the field. Matt Prater hit a 24-yard field goal on the next play, kicked the ball off to the Redskins, and the half was over.
Simms came out in the second half and led the Donkeys on an eight-play, 23-yard drive before being forced to punt. Not horrible, especially considering Simms’ performance for the rest of the game.
That was horrible.
The rest of the Donkeys drives: -5 yards (punt), 23 yards (interception), 0 yards (turnover on downs), and -7 yards (end of game).
The Donkeys offensive performance (or lack thereof) in the second half, demonstrated the importance of the most underrated position in the NFL – the backup quarterback. Simms hadn’t taken a single snap so far this season, and suddenly, he was the guy. And with Orton’s status still unclear, Simms may have to be the guy this Sunday against the Chargers in Denver; easily the biggest game of the year, after the Chargers on three in a row to improve to 6-3 and erase the Broncos 3 1/2 game lead in the AFC West.
Sunday could very well determine the winner of the AFC West. Orton led the Broncos to a 6-2 start through the first half of the season, and a 17-14 lead through the first half against the Redskins. Simms struggled mightily in his half in Washington.
Which quarterback lines up under center will have a huge impact on Sunday’s game against the Chargers and the rest of the season.
I never thought I’d be this scared to lose Kyle Orton to injury.