Josh McDaniels' excitement was genuine, his expression confident and his message dramatic. With a series of fist pumps directed at the Denver Broncos fans at Invesco Field on Sunday, McDaniels let it be known just how much his team's 20-17 victory against the New England Patriots really meant.
During his postgame news conference, McDaniels was asked to clarify the root of his postgame celebration — mainly, because after telling the media all week he was treating this as any old ballgame, McDaniels freaked out like a frat brother who had just found a free keg.
"I lied," he said, flashing the wide smile he's used to reinvigorate the organization since his hiring in January.
By this point, it had been obvious McDaniels treated this game differently, and his admittance of that fact was merely a formality. The 33-year-old rookie head coach went toe-to-toe — or, clipboard-to-clipboard — with Bill Belichick, the man who spent eight years preparing McDaniels for a day just like this one.
"It was a little bit more special to me because I knew how hard it would be to beat them," McDaniels said at his news conference. "I knew that we would have to be incredibly prepared as a staff. We would have to have a great week of practice. Our players would have to be really in tune with the game plan and play extremely hard for 60 minutes. I knew we would have to make some adjustments.
"It's not just special because I was in New England," he continued. "It's special because our team put in the time, and the effort and the work that it required for us to have a chance to compete with them at the end, and I couldn't be prouder of them."
Truth is, McDaniels deserved to celebrate the way he did. For three and a half hours on Sunday, he was better than Belichick. The Broncos' play-calling was better, as they averaged 5.7 yards per snap. Their schemes were better, as they broke out a Wildcat formation that Belichick admitted he had never seen them use before. And the in-game adjustments were better, with the Denver defense scaling back its blitzes and fielding sets with five defensive backs to slow down Tom Brady's passing game and shut out the Patriots in the second half.
This game was as much about the Patriots against the Broncos as it was Belichick against McDaniels, the mentor and the understudy. One victory for McDaniels doesn't change that. He's still the up-and-coming kid with the potential and the football brains to make himself a staple in the NFL for a long time, and he is still chasing the legacy Belichick has long since established.
But Sunday's victory allows McDaniels to move forward with his career. He'll never again have to answer the questions about trying to win his first game against Belichick. Considering how often the Patriots and Broncos meet up on the field, that's a nice badge of honor.
Billed as Belichick's ultimate protégé, McDaniels did his part to step out of his shadow, at least for the time being. They're identical in so many ways, but McDaniels proved Sunday he's got one truly different side. He departed from the prototypical box, shed the stoic image of a head coach and allowed himself to go wild on the field.
And you know what? He earned it.
"Sometimes, you're allowed to have fun," McDaniels said. "That's what I was doing."