ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Sean Payton grew up watching Monday Night Football. It pulled in eyeballs, serving as a weekly gift in the 1970s. There was no ESPN. No NFL Red Zone. And rotary phones did not possess the technology to project video onto lava lamps.
So, the Monday Night games were a treat and a way to see Howard Cosell and crew feature the weekly highlights at halftime.
At 59 years old, the event still brings juice for Payton.
“Absolutely,” he blurted.
Listening to him talk Saturday afternoon before the Broncos boarded a bus to the airport to Buffalo, it was impossible to miss his enthusiasm. He recalled his first Monday nighter in the NFL as a quarterbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles at old Texas Stadium vs. the Cowboys. There was anxiety because the old headsets didn’t work well, and Payton was left to relay offensive coordinator Jon Gruden’s animated play calls with hand signals to quarterback Ty Detmer.
The anxiety of that night has been replaced by excitement. Payton has left no wrinkle un-ironed this week. The Broncos took advantage of an extra day of prep and Payton had two Buffalo Bills logos put on the practice fields to create a visual to acclimate his players.
Broncos vs Bills Monday night on Denver7
“It’s funny. I have done it for years. We used to do it in New Orleans. Our equipment guys had it down pat. And if I could have made it 48 degrees with a 10-mph wind I would have done that too,” Payton said. “It’s more of us getting the mindset, this the logo, trying to simulate that. And when you start building something everyone wants to help, and the field guys do a great job here. … You are playing in front of a national audience and that means every player’s family members, coaches, significant others who have somehow touched their career are seeing them play, and that’s something.”
Payton always emphasizes the details. This trip makes it easy to see. The Broncos left on Saturday and returned on Tuesday afternoon. The players were outfitted in matching grey sweatsuits with ‘Broncos 23’ on the back of the hoodie for the plane ride.
Hopefully, the form will follow function. Fresh off ending the Chiefs’ dominance, the Broncos aim to end another ugly streak. Denver has dropped seven straight Monday night games, its last win coming against the Chargers in 2017. After a three-decade run, the NFL dropped the Broncos on Monday night in 2021, but Denver returned with quarterback Russell Wilson as the headline a year ago, dropping games to the Seahawks and Chargers.
Upset the Bills, and the Broncos season looks different. Not only would they improve to 4-5, but they would own a three-game winning streak with victories over two of the AFC’s Super Bowl contenders entering the season.
“This is a big one. No doubt,” said safety Justin Simmons, whose defense has permitted only 15 points per game over the last three contests.
Payton identified ball security as critical to a win. He threw out the stats about it. One that sticks is that Buffalo went 19-1 in the regular season from 2020-2022 when winning the turnover battle.
Stressing turnover differential is easy to follow. What makes this game interesting is that Buffalo still gets careless. The Broncos and Bills are at 0 in turnover margin. However, the Bills’ 14 giveaways rank 23rd and quarterback Josh Allen, a two-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-pro, has 30 red zone turnovers the past two seasons. Allen is 2-0 against Denver, both wins routs.
Allen, though, will take chances. And the Bronco's path to a victory hinges on capitalizing on them. It won’t be easy with their dynamic offense that features receivers Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis and tight end Dalton Kincaid. The Broncos will counter with an offense that has found its identity on the ground. Denver has the kind of confidence you get when you spell silhouette correctly without auto-correct.
And now they get a chance to display it under the lights on Monday night.
“It’s going to be a cool environment. I have never played in Buffalo before. My family and I have been waiting for this one for a long time in my career because from what you hear it’s one of the coolest places to play,” said right tackle Mike McGlinchey, who will have family at the game. “I am excited to get out there, and excited for the challenge.”