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Paul Klee: Denver Broncos' meltdown in Kansas City lands on the offense and quarterback — but mostly Vance Joseph

By: Paul Klee
October 30, 2017 Updated: October 31, 2017 at 11:17 am
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Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian (13) wipes his face during a time out in the second half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City, Mo., Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Note: Scroll to the bottom of this article to vote on today's Broncos poll.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This is a total failure that starts at the top. The Seahawks are a Super Bowl contender who behaved like one on Monday, trading for a star left tackle to fix their offensive line. John Elway stood pat.

The mess goes further down the Totem pole — much further down, to the bottom of the pile, and the Broncos’ 29-19 loss to the Chiefs definitely was a pile of something — all the way to the punter. Sorry, Riley Dixon. No one’s safe after the Broncos play a game they never had a shot to win.

But Elway owns three Super Bowls rings. And the Broncos eventually can change players. It’s the first-time head coach that Broncos Country should be worried about. Vance Joseph's debut season is one hot mess.

Broncos Chiefs Football
Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph looks at the score board during the second half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City, Mo., Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga) 

“The state of the team?” Joseph asked rhetorically after the Chiefs smacked the Broncos around like an older sibling would a baby bro. “Obviously it’s three in a row that we’ve lost. All three games looked the same.”

All three looked like a team either without a plan, or one that doesn't work, and yet they keep trying. I'm not positive which is worse.

“Tired of losing,” defensive spokesman Chris Harris Jr. said in a sour locker room made merry only by the “No Fly Zone’s” never-ending laugh track. “Tired of losing the same way.”

OK, let’s get the quarterback question out of the way. Without verbalizing his intentions, Joseph nudged open a door that leads straight to a change without committing to a swap of Trevor Siemian for Brock Osweiler.

“Anything’s possible,” Joseph said, adding the old standby that he will "watch the film" before making any sort of announcement on the quarterback spot. 

The Broncos must make a change at quarterback. Siemian's seeing ghosts.

Coaches matter. Not as much as players matter, but they matter.

When Joseph was hired as head coach of the Broncos — advertised by the team as a leader of men while other candidates drooled over the gig — he graded the job with flair and sincerity, just as he grades his players on a daily basis. His evaluation came in a team-issued statement, suggesting the Broncos had time to think about and emphasize what was said: “The Broncos have an unbelievable winning tradition and great fan support. But what makes this even more special is it’s a place that’s ready to win. This is not a rebuilding situation. It’s a reboot.”

Broncos Chiefs Football
Denver Broncos running back Jamaal Charles (28) carries the ball between Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Marcus Peters (22) and linebacker Justin Houston (50) during the second half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley) 

Did Monday night look like a reboot to you? The offense that unfolded inside Arrowhead Stadium looked like a full-system crash. Five turnovers, including one by ex-Chief Jamaal Charles that Kansas City returned for a karmic touchdown. (It was here at Arrowhead that Charles fumbled a win to the Broncos.) A QB rating of 36.0 — and that was with Siemian finally finding a running game to lean on. One play, in particular, had two Chiefs sprinting to get off the field — and Joseph called timeout to bail out the Chiefs.

This was another week in which the Broncos boasted about a “great” Wednesday of practice, yet they now have been outscored 41-10 in first quarters. Blame Siemian for the false starts, if you like. That’s fair. But at this rate only one of them — the coach or the quarterback — is going to be here next year. If Elway rolls with Trev for a third go-round, Colorado will riot.

That leaves Joseph, and through the first half of his first season as a head coach, his memorable moment is a JV sideline reporter from ESPN suggesting Joseph is “having the time of his life.” It never felt like the Broncos had a chance to win on Monday night. That’s most damning of all. If we're being real, the Broncos had a better chance to win at Kansas City with Tim Tebow completing two passes.

“It’s high tension” in the locker room, Harris said.

There’s nothing much else to do in Missouri, so Arrowhead was packed to its concrete brim with dancing and tomahawk chopping, two acceptable ways to burn off all the calories from BBQ tailgates and Bud heavy. The Chiefs want so badly to be the Broncos they bring a horse to the game (Warpaint) and paint their stadium seats orange. But now K.C.’s won four straight against the Broncos for the first time in 17 years. The Chiefs are high-stepping away with the AFC West. Denver's aura of invincibility retired when Peyton Manning did. The Chiefs are goofing around with pass plays from a defensive tackle (Dontari Poe last year) and a punt returner (Tyreek Hill on Monday) for the worst reason possible, if you're the opponent: because they can.

What began as a season in which the Broncos hoped to regain their mojo has devolved into a season where they’re staring down a top-10 draft pick. Next on the schedule are the betting favorites to win the NFC (Philadelphia) and New England (AFC). All together now: yikes.

No one’s immune to criticism. If second-round draft picks Ty Sambrailo, Montee Ball and Cody Latimer had such a hard time seeing the field, it’s fair to wonder if the Broncos front office whiffed on DeMarcus Walker, the second-rounder this year, who was a healthy scratch Monday. But the players they do have aren’t listening to the coaching staff in its first year. That’s the biggest worry.

I watched on Wednesday as special teams coordinator Brock Olivo stood alongside Dixon, the punter, and directed him to kick the football out-of-bounds and away from Chiefs blur Tyreek Hill. The first punt of Dixon’s day went straight to Hill. Come on, guys. That’s first-day stuff.

There was a sparkle of good news, but it happened in Foxboro and had nothing to do with the Broncos (yet). The 49ers — long considered frontrunners for quarterback Kirk Cousins when he exits Washington D.C. — traded for Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. That means Captain Kirk’s next home won’t be San Francisco. Colorado has four seasons, world-class fly fishing and the Tattered Cover carries your new book, Kirk. Come on home.

But nothing about the first half of Joseph’s first season suggests he was ready to coach the Broncos. The latest proof transpired in a windy, miserable night in Kansas City. Denver's season went up in a wave of BBQ smoke. It smelled rotten.

Twitter: @bypaulklee

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