DENVER • Yes, the playoffs remain a possibility for the stumbling, baffling and infuriating Denver Broncos, but don’t start jumping with joy.
If these underachieving Broncos somehow sneak into the playoffs, they’ll be devoured.
That’s the only logical conclusion after Sunday’s 20-19 loss to the Oakland Raiders, a defeat that required a massive amount of imagination by the Broncos.
The Broncos, against all odds, found a way to lose to a loser.
I’ve been trying to picture a more depressing scenario for Broncos fans.
And I’ve failed.
The Broncos were beaten by an inept Raiders franchise that had lost 71 of its previous 100 games.
The Broncos were beaten on a dramatic drive by JaMarcus Russell, who is the NFL’s worst quarterback. (Although Jay Cutler seems poised to catch him.)
On the final drive, Russell faced a second-and-23 and a fourth-and-10, and the Broncos allowed him to escape. In living rooms and bar rooms across the Front Range, fans were howling at TVs.
This couldn’t be happening.
Except it was.
“It was shocking,” said safety David Bruton in a whisper. “We had the lead, and it’s the defense’s job to hold on to the lead. We had them down third-and-long, fourth-and-long.”
And they let the Raiders get away.
If the Broncos had won this game, the path to the playoffs would have been wide and inviting. The loss turns that same path narrow and harsh.
On Oct. 19, the Broncos dropped the Chargers. They were 6-0. They were the darlings of Colorado.
And they were ready to fall apart. Since the bye week, the Broncos have lost six of eight, including virtual surrenders against Baltimore and San Diego. One of the NFL’s best teams has undergone a strange transformation to one of the worst.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles have revived. This is important because the Broncos badly need a win at Philly next week.
On Oct. 18, the Eagles lost to the Raiders, which almost started another revolution in Philadelphia, but the team gained might under the direction of quarterback Donovan McNabb.
The Eagles have won seven of nine. They play in front of the most rabid fans in the NFL. They have every reason to believe they will annihilate the Broncos.
This is a surprising scenario. Josh McDaniels once seemed on his way to crafting a masterpiece coaching debut. His Broncos were the surprise of the NFL. They were tough. They were resourceful. They were overachievers.
Those days seem far away. The McDaniels Broncos now seem strangely similar to the Mike Shanahan Broncos.
Remember two seasons ago when the Broncos somehow lost to the San Francisco 49ers, eliminating Denver from the playoff race?
Or, even worse, last season when the Broncos fell to the Buffalo Bills, allowing the San Diego Chargers to crawl into the playoffs?
“You know what,” linebacker Mario Haggan said, “I have no recollection of that Buffalo game.”
Banishing those memories isn’t the answer. Haggan and his teammates would be wise to embrace images from recent collapses. They must closely examine all the ugly possibilities.
Let’s look at the ugliest possibility of them all. Yes, the Broncos end the season at Invesco against the lowly Chiefs.
Don’t start smiling just yet. A team that loses at home to the Raiders will have no problem losing at home to the Chiefs.