Broncos fan Marianne Clark didn’t spend a lot of time watching the team play last year.
“No, they’ve sucked,” she said bluntly. “I’d watch but then I’d get disgusted and I’d turn it off.”
Clark probably speaks for a lot of Broncos fans who have suffered through four straight losing seasons. Denver finished at the bottom of the AFC West last year, an extraordinary plummet from their glorious Super Bowl season of 2015-16.
Five years ago in February, Peyton Manning was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy after winning the third Super Bowl in Broncos history.
Since then, forgettable Broncos starting quarterbacks have piled up like cars in an I-70 accident on a fresh powder weekend.
Trevor Siemian. Case Keenum. Joe Flacco. Paxton Lynch. Brandon Allen.
Only Napoleon Dynamite’s Uncle Rico hasn’t been given a chance to play quarterback in Denver.
But it’s a new year. And even the tough critic Marianne Clark is optimistic.
“This is gonna be a good year,” she said. “Watching them play in their preseason games. I think they look more organized. They look like they know what they’re doing and look better as a team.”
And now there’s a new sheriff in town.
Teddy Bridgewater will be the Broncos’ fifth quarterback to start a season in as many years when Denver travels east to take on the New York Giants Sunday. Bridgewater beat out last year’s starter, Drew Lock, during a competitive training camp battle.
Bridgewater began his career in 2014 with the Minnesota Vikings. He played well there before a severe leg injury kept him out of the game for nearly two years.
After leaving Minnesota in 2017, Bridgewater played for two other teams. Now, he’s got a new start in Denver.
“It was just one of those deals, when I got traded here, that I was just looking forward to the opportunity to come here and make an impact in any way I could,” Bridgewater said following a recent team practice. “That’s been my mindset, man, wherever I’ve been: How can I leave an everlasting impact on this organization? And right here, I had an opportunity to come in and compete. And I’m looking forward to what’s in store for us.”
Often in the NFL, quarterback competitions come with controversy that can divide teams. But Bridgewater appears to have the support of his teammates. He was recently elected by his fellow players as one of the Broncos’ team captains.
“He has good leadership qualities, good people skills,” Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said. “I think guys kinda gravitate toward him, and I think that’s reflective of him getting elected (captain).”
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So, Broncos fans: Are you ready for Teddy?
“The best quarterback was the guy who played the best in the preseason and that was Teddy Bridgewater. So yes, I’m backing Teddy Bridgewater,” said longtime Broncos fan Randy Martin.
Martin says for Bridgewater to be successful, he’s gotta avoid one thing last year’s starter and now back-up quarterback Drew Lock did a lot of last year.
“Not to turn the ball over,” he said.
Lock finished the 2020 season with 15 interceptions, tied for the most in the league.
“That's the reason he isn’t the quarterback,” Martin said. “He’d fumble, throw a bad pass, interception or something like that.”
But Lock did impress coaches with his improved play during the preseason. It’s just that Fangio believes Bridgewater performed a little better and is more careful with the football. And now, the third-year head coach feels like he has two quarterbacks who can win games this year.
So too does Broncos legendary wide receiver Rod Smith, who knows a little something about good quarterbacks after catching a lot of passes from John Elway in the 1990s.
“I personally like what Drew has done for his game,” said Smith, who holds Broncos franchise records for career receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches. “I really think this year I saw a lot more maturity (from Lock), but I don’t think he would have gotten that if we hadn’t brought in a guy like Teddy.”
“Here’s the thing: We’re gonna need them both if we’re gonna do anything special,” Smith said. “But I think Teddy is the safer play right now … because we can’t afford to get behind, especially early in the season.”
Smith says while the training camp competition has made both quarterbacks better, there’s also added pressure on both of them to perform well.
“But, hell, there’s always pressure in the NFL,” Smith said. “Everything we do is pressure. But I think that knowing that the guy behind you is one play away from being the guy in front of you, I think that does add a dimension to playing at the high level you need to play at.”
And it’s been a while since Broncos fans have seen their quarterback perform at that level.
When asked how frustrated fans are with the recent losing seasons, Broncos fan Narvette Brown said, “On a scale of 1 to 10, probably about an 8.”
“I mean, a lot of people spent a lot of money to get season tickets and all that, only to come with disappointment each and every time,” he said. “I'm not gonna say it’s not gonna change (this year) but I’m not gonna hold my breath.”
Still, Marriane Clark remains optimistic.
“I think both of them are good guys to root for so that’s really a hard thing for me (to decide),” she said when asked if she prefers Bridgewater or Lock as the starter. “It's gonna take a while to watch to see who should have the job. It’s early.”
And at some point, one quarterback may find himself out of a job for good.
“Reality of life,” Clark said. “That’s sports.”
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