Gazette columnist Paul Klee shares three observations from Mile High on Sunday:
1. Vance’s last dance
This must be the final game for Vance Joseph as head coach of the Broncos. It has to be. Hate to pile on —Lord knows I’ve been critical since the Broncos introduced Joseph on Jan. 12, 2016 — but the head-scratching, eye-rolling, bizarre decisions continued all the way through the season finale on Sunday. On his fourth touch of the season, rookie playmaker De’Angelo “Hop” Henderson skedaddled 29 yards for a crowd-pleasing touchdown. Where’s he been all season? The Broncos used three timeouts to close the first half, hoping for a big punt return ... from Isaiah McKenzie, who allowed the football to bounce all the way to the Broncos’ goal line? The loud, proud Broncos defense — facing a rookie quarterback! — steamrolled on an 86-yard scoring drive to open the game. Strange way to support your embattled coach, don’t you think? There was no announcement on Joseph’s status when this was published. He said he expects to return for the 2018 season. But if the Broncos want more than the 20,000-ish fans who remained at game’s end on Sunday, Joseph must be replaced. And while they're at it, bring back Gary Kubiak in a front-office role.
2. Loyal to the end
In weather conditions only a penguin would love, the star of the game was Broncos Country. There are NFL outposts where these factors would result in a crowd of 20,000 fans: 5-10 team with no shot at the postseason, backup quarterbacks, backups everywhere else and a kickoff temperature of 17 degrees, tied for the fourth-coldest regular-season game in team history. Yet there you were, 67,111 bundled up in layers. And more layers. And more layers. I can see a robust crowd when the Broncos hosted the Ravens to open the playoffs in January 2013 and the temperature was 13 degrees. When it’s the playoffs, you pack a flask and go big. But with nothing on the line, other than a fear of frostbite? Y’all deserve a cold one. Actually, a warm one. And the Broncos owe it to some of the most loyal fans in sports to fix this thing.
3. AFC West quarterbacks
Talk about salt in the wound: Just as the Broncos wrap up one of the worst seasons in franchise history and embark on an offseason destined for major changes, the Chiefs debut a franchise quarterback. Patrick Mahomes II looked like a keeper, didn’t he? So that makes three of four teams in the AFC West that appear to be set at the most important position in professional sports: the Chargers with Philip Rivers, who finished this year with his lowest interception rate since 2009; the Raiders with Derek Carr; the Chiefs with Mahomes, who appeared wholly comfortable despite the wholly uncomfortable winter weather. Let’s pump the breaks on the Aaron Rodgers comparisons. The Broncos yanked most of the “No Fly Zone” in the first half. "I wouldn't say he's the real deal," Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall said. "But he has a cannon." And if Mahomes had debuted for the Broncos on Sunday — and looked as promising as he did — no one’s losing their job.