ENGLEWOOD — This is going to be a long road back for the Broncos. As a franchise defined by the all-time quarterbacking of John Elway and Peyton Manning and one of only two teams with three Super Bowl titles in the past two decades, it’s a road they haven’t traveled often.
Take a deep breath. It's about to get worse before it gets better.
The embarrassment of being shut out by the Chargers 21-0 on Sunday must serve as a wake-up call to the entire organization. This was not just any loss. It was the first scoreless game for the Broncos since 1992. This was not just any Sunday. It was the fourth straight game they scored fewer than 17 points.
The ineptitude on offense spans most of 40 games, two coaching staffs and four quarterbacks. It's not just Trevor. He'll be lucky to escape this season not on a cart.
Yes, the uncertainty at quarterback is the simple headline that gets people talking. But changing the quarterback — which they won’t do now, with Vance Joseph saying Monday that Trevor Siemian is “absolutely” is their starting quarterback — would be another attempt at a quick fix when no one can say for sure if the long-term solution is even in the building. How they got here — at 3-3 with upcoming games against the Chiefs (5-2), Eagles (5-1) and Patriots (5-2) — is the result of several poor decisions along the way. How they get out must be a series of good ones. There’s not one easy answer here.
The Broncos are stuck in the past. They are stuck in the long-ago past, where the front office twice has tried to draft the next John Elway — a big, strong-armed chap who can run and throw — in Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch. Neither is the answer, now or later. They are stuck in the recent past, where they won Super Bowl 50 with a powerful defense and don’t-screw-it-up offense — a formula I bought because that defense was so damn powerful.
I was wrong. They were wrong. That formula expired with the final horn inside Levi’s Stadium on Feb. 7, 2016.
They were stuck in the past when Adam Gase wasn’t hired as head coach after the 2014 season. They opted for Gary Kubiak, an old friend, and his first season was the finest coaching job I’ve witnessed. Kubiak’s Broncos won a Super Bowl and hosted a sweet parade. The long-term answer, however, was Gase. In his first season as a head coach the Dolphins went to the playoffs. In his second season the Dolphins are 4-2 — all while shuffling three quarterbacks, defensive coordinators and an assistant coach snorting cocaine at team headquarters. Maybe Joseph will be the real deal. Hope so. He’s been honest, and honesty is underrated. But the Dolphins have won with Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore and Jay Cutler. There’s proof that Gase is the real deal.
Whatever Joseph is preaching isn’t hitting home. He said so. After offering up a rundown of what he will change — fewer meetings, more walk-throughs and “live bodies” — Joseph suggested the Broncos are experiencing a failure to communicate, from the coaches to the players.
“Something is not clicking with our players as far as doing things right,” Joseph said. “So we have to coach differently.”
This is a coaching staff with skins on the wall, as John Fox might say. The offense has four men who have called plays for NFL teams. Joseph arrived with a reputation as a leader of men. But Monday sounded way too much like Brian Shaw that time the Nuggets coach said he was reading a book on Millenials to better understand the younger generation in his locker room. It didn’t sound very comforting.
“We have to revamp how we’re teaching these players and get more positive play out of some guys,” Joseph said.
Everything that Joseph said was genuine and true. He’s not trying to fool anyone.
On the decision to stick with Siemian instead of being ready to Brock: “He can’t play well if he’s not being protected well in certain spots. He hasn’t been perfect. He can play better, absolutely. But it’s not a Trevor problem. It’s a unit problem.”
On great weeks of practice (his words) not translating on gameday: “We’re blowing basic concepts in all three phases, not just one phase. It’s puzzling.”
On a strong defense being wasted: “I wouldn't say wasted, but I will say this about playing defense in this league: when you don’t score points, it’s hard for our defense to cause havoc because everything is being played close to the vest. The Giants threw one pass over 8 yards. (Sunday, Philip Rivers) was very conservative.”
This is what happens when a sports team goes south. We nitpick the coach on everything from sideline demeanor to locker room speeches to answers in a trivial Monday press conference. None of that matters. If it did, Bill Belichick would have joined media in the unemployment line. All that matters is whether his players respond to Joseph’s coaching. They’re not, in his words.
Since you asked, I think this Broncos season is cooked. You can stick a fork in it now, or wait until the Chiefs do the dirty work on Monday Night Football. Then the Eagles can turn on the oven and wait for the Patriots to dig in. Maybe Handsome Tom will wear an apron to Mile High. He’s going to feast.
It’s entirely possible Elway, the general manager, has another ace up his sleeve. He’s done it before with Peyton Manning, the great house painter who covered up all the cracks. But right now the cracks are showing. The Broncos have questions from quarterback to the offensive line to the head coach, even with the name of the stadium. This looks like it’s going to be a long road back.