Coming Home Proves No Party for Maddox
A schoolboy smile is all Denver quarterback Tommy Maddox had left as he walked off the Coliseum field after making his first NFL start.
It was the kind of smile any 21-year-old rookie quarterback would have after his team was shut out for the second time this season.
Instead of a frown, Maddox smiled to keep from showing his disappointment after his fairy-tale script of returning home to beat the Raiders did not come true.
After all, how could the former UCLA standout cheerfully smile after an afternoon full of interceptions, dropped balls and fumbles during Denver’s 24-0 loss?
In his first game back in Los Angeles, Maddox completed 18 of 26 passes for 207 yards. However, what he will remember most is his two interceptions by cornerback Terry McDaniel and his inability to get Denver on the scoreboard.
“I thought Tommy did some good things,” Denver Coach Dan Reeves said. “He also made some mistakes. But that’s what the NFL is all about for young quarterbacks. They have to learn. It’s a teaching and learning experience. Today he did the learning.”
It was only a year ago, as a college sophomore, that Maddox led UCLA to a victory over USC on the same Coliseum field. He surprised many when he chose to turn pro early and had hoped to make a victorious return to Los Angeles.
“I expected to play well, but things did not turn out the best for us,” Maddox said. “I just hope that the next time I get an opportunity like this . . . I take advantage of it.”
Throughout the week, Maddox practiced with the starting offense because John Elway had an injured right shoulder. However, Maddox did not know for certain that he would start until three hours before kickoff.
“I didn’t know that I was starting until John came over this morning and told me that he tried to throw and couldn’t,” Maddox said. “I knew this game would be a learning experience.”
Maddox, the Broncos’ No. 1 draft choice, had earned high marks a week ago when he came off the bench to lead Denver to a 27-13 home victory over the New York Giants.
But he learned that playing the Raiders on the road is a different story.
The Raiders surprised Maddox by not blitzing more than they did during their 17-13 opening loss to Denver. The Broncos had expected different defensive looks in an attempt to confuse their young cornerback.
“We felt good in what we did (against Denver in September), so we tried to do the same things,” Raider linebacker Riki Ellison said. “We figured that Denver would run their same offense with the only difference being at quarterback.”
The Raiders’ game plan worked as they kept Maddox from getting comfortable in attacking their defense. Every time Denver moved the ball, Maddox would be pressured, sacked or simply dropped the ball.
During one stretch of the third quarter, Maddox had problems holding onto the ball. First, he fumbled without being touched and the Raiders’ Aaron Wallace recovered. Then, on Denver’s next two series, he recovered his fumbles twice.
“A couple of times out there the ball was really dirty,” Maddox said. “The middle of the field was kind of sloppy.”
When he did hold onto the ball, Maddox was able to move Denver’s offense, but he killed two drives with interceptions to McDaniel.
The first came late in the first quarter when he tried to pass deep to Mark Jackson on a post-pattern. However, Maddox threw the ball off-target and McDaniel returned the pass 67 yards to set up the Raiders’ first score.
“I just threw a bad ball,” Maddox said. “It was an easy play for (McDaniel).”
As if he was not acquainted with McDaniel enough, Maddox passed to him again late in the fourth quarter.
With Vance Johnson running a crossing pattern, McDaniel stepped in front of Maddox’s last pass of the game and returned it 67 yards again to preserve the Raiders’ second shutout of the season.
Elway, who is expected back for Denver’s next game against Seattle, said that Maddox learned a lot from Sunday’s game.
“I told him that all he could do is the best he could do and not worry about it,” Elway said. “Tommy made some mistakes, but you have to give some credit to their defense. They made the plays.”
Next week, Maddox will probably be back holding a clipboard on the Denver sideline. But for now, he will remember what might have been against the Raiders.