Perfect protege: McDaniels' insight helps his new team beat old one

DENVER -- The scene said everything that Josh McDaniels had refused to say all week.

It was no longer necessary to keep his feelings hidden from public view. It was over. The Denver Broncos had done the improbable, if not the impossible, in beating the New England Patriots 20-17 in overtime, and the 33-year-old McDaniels finally was ready to let off a little steam.

So, with all of the enthusiasm that one would expect from a relative youngster in his profession, McDaniels sprinted down to a corner of the north end zone of Invesco Field at Mile High and pointed up to the luxury box where his family sat, as well as to sections of the stands still packed with cheering fans. He pumped his fist and screamed at the top of his lungs.

Then the 5-foot-8 McDaniels turned and sprinted about 15 yards toward 6-3 Broncos defensive lineman Kenny Peterson, whose long arms were wide open. Peterson scooped his coach off the ground and lifted him high in the air.

"Sometimes you're allowed to have fun, and that's what I was doing," McDaniels said.

But the moment was much more than a celebration over the Broncos' dramatic rally from a 10-point halftime deficit to force overtime and then come away with a 20-17 victory. It was much more than a celebration about their stunning 5-0 record.

It was about the fact that the student did what so many NFL observers doubted was doable. He beat his teacher. And even though McDaniels wouldn't publicly acknowledge it in the days leading up to the game, Peterson and the rest of the Broncos players knew exactly how much that meant to their coach.

"Josh is going to stay humble and talk it down, but deep down inside, that's like playing your dad at chess and finally beating him," Peterson said. "I've still got to beat my dad."

In this case, the "children" are former Bill Belichick assistants who have gone on to head-coaching jobs in the NFL. Before McDaniels, only one had come out on top in a first matchup with the "old man," and that was when Al Groh was with the New York Jets and Belichick was in his first year with the Patriots. Belichick has since won three Super Bowls and established himself as one of the greatest coaches in football history -- if not the greatest. The Patriots had won their last two games and looked as if they were back to elite form.

McDaniels, the Patriots' former offensive coordinator, was off to an impressive rookie year at the Broncos' helm, but his success had come in a fluky opening-day win over the Cincinnati Bengals and victories over bottom-dwellers such as the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders. It wasn't until last week, when the Broncos pulled out a last-second victory over the Dallas Cowboys, that he and his team started to gain some credibility. And even then, the Cowboys were viewed as somewhat of a suspect team.

The Broncos needed to win a game like Sunday's to demonstrate that they are, indeed, for real. Yes, the offseason firestorm over McDaniels sending Jay Cutler packing for Chicago and making former Bear Kyle Orton his starting quarterback had faded through a 4-0 start. Yes, the hug-fest between once-disgruntled star wide receiver Brandon Marshall and McDaniels after the Dallas game did plenty to erase the hard feelings that Broncos fans also had about the new coach heading into the season.

But a victory over the Patriots was critical because it would provide validation that the Broncos were more good than lucky and also had truly gotten a piece of that New England dynasty that just might bring back the glory they haven't seen in these parts for many years.

That was a big reason why the week of practice leading up to this game was far more intense than any the Broncos had experienced this season. McDaniels wanted to make certain that his offense and defense would be ready for the team he knew probably better than his own, so extra care was taken to address the smallest of details. He admitted after the game that he had "lied" about calling it "just any other game," and was treating it accordingly.

"Every bit of that preparation came into play today; we needed it all," said Broncos wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, a former Patriot. "We wanted to play our best game for ourselves and for (McDaniels). We knew this was a big one for him. He wanted to get this one a little bit more than all the rest."

McDaniels was especially helpful to defensive players because, after all, he was the primary architect of the offense the Patriots were using.

As a result, the Patriots didn't score a single point after building a 17-7 first-half lead.

"It helped us a lot, scheme-wise and situational-wise," Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams said. "Not only (McDaniels) knowing their offense but actually knowing their personnel. He was able to tell us about a back who likes to carry a ball predominantly in his right or left hand because he has a problem with this or that. They changed some of the keys we had, but it still helped a lot."

The Broncos can sustain their success because they have a superb defense. They make plays and generate pressure, even without using a whole lot of blitzing.

Orton is proving to be an efficient and effective quarterback. His increased comfort with McDaniels' offense becomes more obvious with each outing. On Sunday, Orton led the Broncos on drives of 90 and 98 yards, both ending with his touchdown throws to Marshall. At times, Orton looked like a maestro leading his offense, much the way Tom Brady has done for years with the Patriots. Not coincidentally, Brady enjoyed his greatest moments with McDaniels calling the plays.

Now it's time for the Broncos to receive even more respect from around the league. They deserve it.

"It's amazing, watching the prognosticators, going into this game, saying that we're the underdogs, once again, in our house after beating Dallas last week," defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday said. "Much respect for what (the Patriots) have done over the course of the last many years, but we feel like we're a good team here. We're doing some good things.

"All that matters -- and this is the philosophy and the attitude and the approach that we're taking to it -- is that the guys in this locker room believe. The (players) and the coaches believe."

And the players believe in McDaniels, who has learned well from his teacher. Belichick's approach is to keep everything in house. No boasting. Just do what is necessary to win ... and move on.

In putting their 5-0 record into perspective, several Broncos sounded like Belichick-coached players -- another example of the lessons that McDaniels learned in New England.

"We're just 5-0," linebacker Mario Haggan said. "It doesn't get us the Super Bowl ring we want, it doesn't put us in the playoffs. It just means we're playing good right now, and we've still got 11 games to go in the season."

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