Broncos coach Mike Shanahan: balls of steel or a vote of no-confidence

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The luckiest mastermind in the entire NFL.

Going into Sunday's matchup between the Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers, I hoped for a Broncos performance that would wipe the smirk off San Diego QB/classless putz Philip Rivers' face. But while I'm thrilled that the Broncos wound up on the winning end of the 39-38 final, the revenge that resulted didn't taste nearly as sweet as I'd anticipated, for one simple reason: the Chargers got jobbed. Even setting aside Champ Bailey's highly dubious first-half interception, which led to an early touchdown, quarterback Jay Cutler's fourth-quarter fumble should have sealed a doom the Broncos richly deserved for sleepwalking through the third quarter and letting the Bolts back into the game. Instead, it gave the players a chance for redemption -- and when they seized it, coaching mastermind Mike Shanahan found himself being praised for his supposedly gutsy move to go for a two-point conversion that ultimately provided the margin of victory.

But did Shanahan really exhibit bravery? Or did the call actually indicate that he'd lost faith in his defense?

Some of both, probably -- and the influence of the defense on his decision shouldn't be overlooked. Simply put, the Broncos proved utterly incapable of stopping the Chargers' passing or running attacks. With LaDainian Tomlinson out or ineffective due to injury for most of the contest, backup Darren Sproles looked like the second coming of Devin Hester, the Bears phenom who slashed up the Broncos defense last year in memorable fashion. Moreover, Rivers had a month of Sundays to find receivers on most plays, especially in the second half -- and although he made a few errant throws, his overall accuracy was damned impressive. The reason, once again, was the Broncos anemic pass "rush" -- although this last word hardly applies to the defensive line's efforts. Even when the ballers blitzed, they failed to consistently bother Rivers, as the Chargers' 21 points in the second half demonstrated.

Understanding that, Shanahan had to know that if the game went into overtime, it would be decided by a coin flip; if the Chargers won the toss, it was all over. So why not go for two points? Cutler and receivers Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal were smoking hot all afternoon -- except during the aforementioned third quarter, when the play-calling turned overly conservative, as usual. If the conversion failed, at least fans could feel that the Broncos had gone with their strength -- the offense -- as opposed to their weakness.

The defense is likely to haunt the Broncos all year long, putting tremendous pressure on Cutler and company to outscore opponents who'll likely have little problem racking up points. That approach worked yesterday, but everyone from the Mastermind to a certain Mr. Rivers knows that's hardly a long-term solution. -- Michael Roberts

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