As season-defining trends go, it didn't take long for this one to develop, recalls Broncos defensive line coach Andre Patterson. The tone on defense was set early in Denver this year. Extremely early. By halftime of the Broncos' opening day game in St. Louis, the makings of Denver's shutdown, whatever-it-takes mentality had already surfaced and was prominently displayed.
With Denver down 3-0 late in the first quarter, the Broncos proceeded to cough the ball up on three successive drives, with all three turnovers occurring dangerously deep in their own territory. In the span of five snaps, Jake Plummer and Tatum Bell fumbled the ball away to St. Louis, and Plummer was picked off by rookie cornerback Tye Hill.
Ballgame? Not exactly. On the resulting three Rams drives, the Broncos defense stiffened and allowed all of one first down, with minus-3 net yards on 15 snaps. The Rams wound up missing a field goal on that first drive, then converting two short field goals on their next two possessions, leaving the Broncos with a 9-0 second-quarter deficit to deal with but also sending the unmistakable message that surrender would not be an option this season in Denver.
The Broncos lost that game, 18-10, as the Rams prevailed on six Jeff Wilkins field goals. But they haven't lost since, and through six weeks of the season, the Broncos defense is on a historic pace. You can't spell domination in Denver this year without a D.
"It all started with those three turnovers in our own territory in St. Louis,'' Patterson said. "It was like bang, bang, bang, but there was no panic at all. The defense just went out there and got it done every time. You could just see that in their mind, the other team wasn't getting in the end zone. They weren't getting six.''
Not getting six has become a hard, cold reality for Denver opponents this season. Through five games, the Broncos have allowed just one -- one -- touchdown, to go with 10 field goals. In a season in which stout defenses seem to be plentiful in the NFL, nobody is doing it any better than Denver, which didn't surrender a touchdown in its first 11 quarters this year.
Last Sunday night against Oakland, the Broncos became the first team in 72 years to limit opponents to a single touchdown in their first five games, and their 37 points allowed (7.4 ppg) puts them on pace to break both the 2000 Baltimore Ravens' league record of 165 points surrendered in a 16-game season (10.3 ppg), and the 1977 Atlanta Falcons' NFL mark of 129 points allowed in a 14-game season (9.2 ppg).
"In my 10 years in the league, this is the best defense I've ever been around,'' said Patterson, who had NFL coaching stops in New England, Minnesota, Dallas and Cleveland before coming to Denver in 2005. "We've got talent at every level of the defense, from the D-line, to the linebackers and in the secondary. It's a group that has a chance to be special if they stay hungry and stay focused.''