DENVER – After the 6-0 start, the fist pumps and the heaping helpings of praise, it was easy to forget Josh McDaniels was a rookie coach. But as the Broncos finished one of the biggest collapses in NFL history, he looked like a first-time coach.
Denver was knocked out of the playoff hunt after a 2-8 stretch to end the season. That streak was capped by four straight losses. The last one was a 44-24 defeat Sunday to a Kansas City team that was 3-12 coming in and was handled by Denver at Arrowhead Stadium a month ago.
The Broncos are the third team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to start 6-0 and miss the playoffs, joining the 1978 Redskins and 2003 Vikings. McDaniels admitted he will do things differently in his second season. He wouldn’t go into detail, but said he can do a better job.
“This is a hard job to do, whether it’s a player, coach or somebody in the front office,” McDaniels said. “It’s a tough league, it’s very competitive, and I’m looking forward to getting this better at what I do and trying to improve this team every way I can.”
The Broncos fell apart on McDaniels’ watch, and many will second guess him during the offseason. His offensive plans, which were sound in the first six weeks, didn’t save the team late. In the first meeting between the Chiefs and Broncos, Denver rushed for 245 yards. Considering Kansas City ranks 31st in the NFL in rushing defense, that seemed like an obvious strategy to repeat.
But on Sunday, without exiled receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Tony Scheffler at Invesco Field at Mile High and with injured receiver Eddie Royal out, McDaniels said the plan was to spread the field and throw the ball. Quarterback Kyle Orton had 431 yards, but also had three interceptions – two of which were returned for touchdowns by linebacker Derrick Johnson.
The criticism will go far beyond some play-calls. Friday’s controversy, in which McDaniels announced Marshall would be deactivated and then questioned the severity of the Pro Bowl receiver’s hamstring injury, seemed to affect the Broncos, although players said that wasn’t the case. Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles rushed for 259 yards and a pair of touchdowns, which didn’t have anything to do with offensive absences.
“We had the guys that wanted to play in the huddle,” quarterback Kyle Orton said. “I appreciate coach for his decision.”
This might be a messy offseason, with more turnover on the roster as McDaniels gets his own players. The Broncos, which have missed the playoffs four years in a row for the first time since the 1970s, have lost the season finale three of the last four years with their playoff hopes still alive. McDaniels has only been coach for one of those collapses, and made a comment that might raise some eyebrows.
“I think that we have to look at what may be the common denominator in terms of why we are not finishing better than we’re finishing,” McDaniels said.
An evaluation of the roster will start soon.
“This is a big part of the puzzle, seeing what kind of guys stepped up and who folded the tent,” defensive end Vonnie Holliday said.
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