He’s played professional football for the last 11 years and thrown over 5,600 career passes, but Joe Flacco unlocked a new achievement Monday night:
Start a game — as the good guy — in Denver.
Not since Peyton Manning hung up his legendary cleats have the Broncos boasted a veritable veteran under center. And not since Manning has the home crowd produced noise while the offense held possession.
Instantly, Flacco knew he’d stepped onto hallow ground and into unfamiliar territory.
“It gets your juices going. Yeah, it was a lot of fun,” he said following Denver’s 24-15 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. “I know it’s not a full stadium yet but had a good amount of people out there. The one thing I noticed, it was really weird, you can tell [former Broncos QB] Peyton [Manning] played here because when the offense has the ball, it’s like, you can hear a pin drop. That was a little different, to be honest with you, it’s always quiet, obviously, for the home team when they’re on offense but that was a little extra. I felt like I heard my voice echoing in the stadium, so I was a little thrown off by that.”
Flacco didn’t set the NFL world alight with his performance against San Francisco, but he did show why the Broncos went all-in on the 34-year-old former Super Bowl MVP, who completed 7-of-11 passes for 59 yards in roughly one quarter of action.
Flacco demonstrated ability glaringly absent last year under then-starting QB Case Keenum, climbing the pocket in the face of pressure and anticipatingly rifling heaters down the middle of the field. His highlight-reel moment came on a 45-yard deep strike to Emmanuel Sanders which was negated by a Garett Bolles holding penalty.
Leadership can appear in many forms. Flacco sports it in spades despite continual hiccups from those around him (looking at you, Garett).
“I think those guys are working really hard and I think they’re well coached and I think they’re physical,” he said. “I think they come off the ball really hard. When you have those key components, I think you’re setting yourself up for some good play. What am I going to say to Garrett? No, those things happen. I didn’t see it. Even if I did say something, I’d have to see it first just to see if it was actually holding. Garrett’s going to do his thing out there and sometimes things like that happen, you just have to keep them to a minimum.”
Red Zone Struggles
Flacco and Co. had little issue marching down the field, but, as we’ve seen so often since 2016, Denver failed to capitalize in the red zone, settling for field goals. The Broncos stalled following a short Royce Freeman run and two Flacco incompletions, the latter on a low-percentage play in the end zone.
If the Broncos hope to contend with the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Philip Rivers, they better learn to end drives with six points, not three. Flacco, channeling his “Joe Cool” persona, views Saturday’s struggles as a learning tool for the regular season.
“It’s great when you can [score in the red zone], but at the end of the day you’re looking to do certain things, run certain routes, get certain guys the ball,” he said. “Like I said, as far as an offense you just don’t want to see some of the penalties stop your drives but there’s a lot of other things. Personally, I felt like there’s a lot of things to help myself get ready for the season. We had a few third downs, a few situations that we had to handle and a lot of positive things that we could take from it.”
Praise for Hamilton
Sanders, in his first game action since tearing his Achilles’ eight months ago, stole the show against San Francisco, but it was his partner-in-pass-catching, sophomore DaeSean Hamilton, who earned a special shout from Flacco following the defeat. Targeted thrice, Hamilton caught two passes for 21 yards, including a chain-moving third-down grab.
“Listen, I see him doing a lot of things to get himself open in one-on-one coverage and he’s real crafty just sitting in zones doing those things, so I told him I thought he did a good job on that one just me stepping up and sliding right,” Flacco said. “He was patient enough to kind of just find me and find a little soft area in the defense. Those third downs ended up being big plays in the game and they turned a punt into some kind of points, so it’s definitely good things to see.”
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter @KelbermanNFL