ENGLEWOOD • Despite all the last-minute drama, if the Broncos make the playoffs, then coach Josh McDaniels’ first season would have to be labeled a success.
But if that doesn’t happen — and the Broncos need help from at least two teams, even with a win over the Chiefs today — judging McDaniels’ first year gets a lot more difficult.
After six games, he hadn’t lost, led the AFC West by 3 1/2 games and looked like a phenomenal success. Since then the Broncos have faded, going 2-7 and losing the division lead.
If losing wasn’t enough, McDaniels butted heads with receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Tony Scheffler this week. McDaniels questioned the severity of Marshall’s hamstring injury and said he won’t play. McDaniels didn’t declare Scheffler out, but the Denver Post reported that he will be inactive, too.
“We’re looking to put the 45 guys on the field who want to play together, want to help us win and try to qualify for the playoffs and we talked about it as a squad Wednesday is that’s what’s going to happen this week,” McDaniels said. “And anybody showed indifference to that, we’ll play without him and we’ll play well anyway.”
Last year, a similar collapse cost Mike Shanahan his job. The Broncos led by three games in the AFC West with three to play, and didn’t make the playoffs. This year, the Broncos are trying to avoid becoming the third 6-0 team in NFL history to miss the playoffs and tensions are rising.
“If he decides to take some personal shots because of the way the season’s unfolding, it’s not my fault,” Marshall said Friday.
McDaniels appears to be setting himself up to rebuild the Broncos in his image for the long haul. He seems determined to get rid of many of the players from Shanahan’s run as coach — he already dispatched many during this past offseason — perhaps seeing some as a poor fit for his program on the field or in the locker room.
Marshall and Scheffler are both from Shanahan’s regime and McDaniels mentioned Friday that things that may have been tolerated in the past won’t be anymore.
By his second season the roster will probably be almost filled with players McDaniels acquired.
“I want to make sure that we’re putting a team out there that wants to do all the things we’re trying to do to help us qualify for the playoffs,” McDaniels said when asked about what it means that the two players involved in this week’s drama were from the past regime. “That’s the point. I don’t know what that means about the past.”
During the week, before McDaniels announced Marshall’s deactivation, players spoke about progress that has been made this season. The defense is much improved with a new scheme. Players should be more comfortable with schemes on both sides of the ball in the second year of McDaniels’ tenure. And for better or worse, the culture of the Broncos is changing.
“I think we have a lot more guys that are focused on the team’s goals, and I feel like we made changes, and I feel like it’s a lot better than last year,” tight end Daniel Graham said. “Josh has done a good job of establishing how he’s going to be coaching for his years to come, and guys fit into it. I think we’re in the right direction.”