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Moral Victories in the NFL Exist, and Denver Tallied One in Seattle

The Denver Broncos may have lost the game but they wiped their hapless Super Bowl loss from the minds of many with their late-game heroics.

Peyton Manning superbowl

It’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question.

Ask a professional athlete, and you will enable a rage of passionate denial. Ask an analyst and, admittedly or not, his or her reaction will yield a different result.

For whatever reason – probably the underlying theme centered around failure – it appears taboo to openly accept that moral victories exist.

Everything is debatable, especially in the world of sports, and there is never a clear-cut rule for anything. As always, the topic of conversation was sparked by one particular incident: the Denver Broncos staging a comeback in Seattle, only to lose in overtime. Does this mean that ‘moral victories’, as we tend to define them, exist? More importantly, like many other aspects of sports, it should be noted that no such definition can be found without debate.

Removing the literal sense from the term, the question is less whether or not the Broncos ‘won’ anything on Sunday (they didn’t), but rather if they learned anything. The typical response frequently thrown around as an answer to this question appears to be oversimplified at first glance: Denver believes it can hang with Seattle.

It’s easy to scoff at the thought. For starters, the Broncos are a professional sports franchise, and in a more respected sense of the term than the Jaguars or Buccaneers. They aren’t just paid to play football. They are constructed to win. To consider that a 13-win team from one year ago feels intimidated by eleven players in teal and neon green is as naive a thought as thinking they are suddenly alleviated from that concern. No part of the Seahawks scared the Broncos entering Sunday’s game, and no less is fear-inducing now.

How then, if not for confidence, can Sunday’s comeback loss be considered beneficial for the Broncos? For the same reason why Seattle was destined to win the game all along.

While not to the epic proportions of Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos were largely dominated through most of their rematch with the defending champions. With just over one quarter of play remaining, the Seahawks held a 17-3 lead and were lining up for a field goal attempt. The normally sure-footed Steven Hauschka was about to give Seattle a three-score lead against a team whose generally prolific offense had managed less than a handful of points.

As the story goes, Hauschka missed the kick, the Broncos recorded a safety, scored a touchdown, managed to throw an interception and still found themselves in a position to tie the game. With one more defensive stop, Denver forced another Hauschka field goal – this time, the kick was good – that began one of the most impressive moments of the young 2014 season.

Peyton Manning led the Broncos, in Seattle, 80 yards for a game-tying touchdown. To cap off the drive, Denver converted the critical two-point conversion with an outstanding catch by Demaryius Thomas in the back of the endzone. Comeback complete.

Not so fast.

As well-documented as Denver’s fourth quarter was, Seattle’s overtime is all that matters for the final score. The Seahawks methodically marched down the field to respond with their own touchdown drive; this one, the game-winner.

It’s never enough to accept the final score of a football game and pass a singular judgment upon the four (in this case, five) quarters of play that led to the end result. A 26-20 overtime win indicates a closely contested battle that needed an extra few minutes of play to decide a winner. However, no part of that sentence is true.

Seattle was the better team from the opening kickoff until the final whistle. The only reason the two teams saw an extra period of play was due to a poorly timed collapse of the Seahawks mixed with the Broncos finally figuring out a few plays that worked. The final twenty minutes of football were excellent to watch. The game was not.

If you ask any member of the Denver Broncos what they will take away from Sunday’s loss, the answer is unified: nothing. Apparently, according to those who view knowledge in black or white form, only one team walks away from a game with anything gained.

Ridiculous.

Maybe the Broncos won’t receive a trophy for their efforts, and a solid pat on the back won’t mean a thing in the standings. But consider that, after seven quarters of domination, the Broncos found one that worked. Of course, desperation played into it as well as lackadaisical efforts by their opponents. But progress that moves forward creates momentum.

Consider an alternate reality where Steven Hauschka’s late third quarter field goal sails through the uprights. The Seahawks lead 20-3. In this same universe, the Seahawks effectively run out the clock on the Broncos, adding another field goal, where Denver scores a late touchdown in garbage time. Final score: Seahawks 23, Broncos 10. And it was never that close.

After this game, as described above, the Seahawks and Broncos launch another Super Bowl run this season. They meet again on February 1, 2015 in Arizona for the ‘true rematch.’ On a scale of 1-10, how likely are the Broncos to come out victorious? Two? Maybe Three? The point is, their only chance of beating Seattle is to invent a new way to beat Seattle.

Revert back to real life.

The pill is bitter to swallow, but the loss sustained by the Broncos in Seattle was not without its positive side effects. Denver found a way, albeit small, to outscore the Seahawks for a brief amount of time. Understandably, they couldn’t do it on the one drive that mattered in overtime, but they rose to the occasion when Seattle didn’t at the end of regulation.

It’s not about confidence. It’s not about ‘knowing they can hang with another team.’ The Broncos gained experience, knowledge, and an actual blueprint for success. It’s what gave Seattle the edge entering Sunday, and it’s what has now leveled the playing field between the two teams.

Revisit the two scenarios as to how the game could have finished. This time, stick with reality: Seahawks win in overtime 26-20. The same Super Bowl rematch collision course ensues.

Are the Broncos’ chances of victory still as low as they were in our alternate universe or have they crept upwards?

That inflation wasn’t created from thin air.

It came from Sunday’s game.

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