PHILADELPHIA — This is an entire rebuild.
The Broncos must treat it that way.
Sunday at gray, gloomy Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles wore black to the end of an era. Classy touch, Philly. By smashing the Broncos 51-23 and in every possible way — offense, defense, special teams and, most definitely, in the coaching department — the Eagles actually did them a favor.
It's time to stop pretending, hoping and praying this formula can work again. The rebuild can start now. That old notion that Denver’s defense is still Super Bowl-caliber and the offense is just there to not screw it up?
Well, that theory imploded when the Eagles scored so often “The Linc” ran out of fireworks. Yep, that happened. Instead of lighting up the city's skyline each time Carson Wentz threw another touchdown, the Eagles were forced to celebrate the old-fashioned way — by laughing at the opponent's expense.
“We got our ass kicked,” Broncos defender Derek Wolfe said. “What else needs to be said?”
Plenty, to drive home the point: the expiration date on Denver's unusual formula of winning with defense was Nov. 5, 2017. Remember when Peyton Manning hit the proverbial wall, forcing the Broncos to overhaul their approach for Manning’s final season-and-a-half as the quarterback?
This felt like that, only this time for the Broncos defense. In the NFL, the wall moves as quickly as a cornerback. And with the Eagles’ steel-toed boot stuck in their backside, the Broncos were given undeniable proof a golden era of winning football is dead to rights.
Time to bury it. Time to move forward. No job’s safe.
The defense's utter dominance became a warm, distant memory right when Wentz, the Eagles quarterback, faced a fourth-and-1 near the goal line — and, instead of running the ball to burn clock with a 22-point lead, threw a pass straight into the teeth of the “No Fly Zone” for a first down. A defense that routinely swamped the likes of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers looked more like a practice squad for Wentz and the Eagles.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen this defense give up yards and points like that,” linebacker Brandon Marshall said in a losing locker room that emptied quicker than a subway train during rush hour.
“We couldn’t do anything,” Marshall said, his voice trailing off.
Broncos coach Vance Joseph was right for once. He’s said for weeks the issues that plagued the Broncos in lopsided losses to the Giants, Chargers and Chiefs were more than Trevor Siemian. The Broncos have 99 problems and a quarterback is only one.
The last time the Broncos allowed more than 50 points was Oct. 24, 2010 — 59-14, Raiders. Six weeks later, Josh McDaniels was fired as coach. It’s unfair to pin a 3-5 start and one big, ugly signature loss all on Joseph, the first-time head coach. But he’s not the guy. Nine months into his tenure, Joseph has offered zero evidence the Broncos made a quality hire. It hasn’t mattered if a player conducts a marriage proposal during a preseason game (Menelik Watson), Snapchats practice to thousands of strangers and 31 NFL teams (Will Parks) or drops touchdown pass after first-down pass (Bennie Fowler). The response from Joseph has been the same: Get back out there, fellas!
Von Miller's one of the kindest dudes and hardest workers you'd be lucky enough to meet. But when the lineup of team captains include a prankster like Vonnie Football, the kicker, the benched quarterback and Aqib Talib, Mr. Eye Poke himself, how did you expect this movie was going to end?
“It starts with me. I’m the head coach here. I’ve got to fix this,” Joseph said.
Combined with a talent deficit that was on full display against the betting favorites to escape the NFC and reach the Super Bowl, a lack of accountability in Joseph’s locker room led directly to Sunday. The Broncos had 14 penalties. The first quarter stood as a comedy of errors without a punchline. Offense, holding. Defense, holding. Special teams, block in the back.
“Undisciplined,” Wolfe said before adding “fighting with each other” to a list of the mistakes.
What does rock bottom look like? Midway through the first half, 16 Broncos sat on the bench, dejected. Another six took a knee on the sideline. I imagine most of Colorado flipped off its TVs to walk the dog or rake that last pile of leaves. Meanwhile, if these were the same fans who once infamously booed Santa Claus, ol’ Santa must have deserved it. The Philly fanatics had a jolly good time, especially in Section M9, where 20 locals serenaded a longtime season-ticket holder with a giddy rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
The contrast in the state of the franchises was enough to make Broncos Country shed a tear. One team reveled in a bright future that comes with a franchise quarterback. Wentz threw four touchdowns and will have a statue alongside Rocky Balboa’s if this continues. The other team threw Brock Osweiler against the wall to see if he would stick. Two interceptions later, it was more of the same slog for the Broncos offense.
If Paxton Lynch is healthy enough to play, he should start next Sunday against the Patriots. Not because Lynch is the answer (he’s still the guy who lost two quarterback competitions), or because it will impact the outcome (Handsome Tom and the Patriots can wear their favorite Uggs and still own Mile High).
This season was cooked before Sunday. Now's the time to find out what you've got at every position and, more important, who's still playing through the whistle. "A self-check," Joseph called it. When the opponent scores so often the stadium runs low on fireworks, it's time to reconsider the entire operation, no matter how many Super Bowl rings the defense brought home.
“They had a great plan in the run and in the pass,” Joseph said. “They exposed us.”
The great Broncos defense as we knew it is no longer.
Long live the great Broncos defense.