DENVER • These are not the Broncos as you knew them. Those golden days are long gone.
These Broncos are any other franchise. They’re not special anymore. They have more Bowlen family lawsuits than wins. They are kicking and screaming, but at each other, as several players did after another punch-to-the-gut loss, 26-24 to the Jaguars at Empower Field at Mile High.
From outside the locker room Sunday evening, I heard them hollering angry words. Even the friendly security guard’s eyeballs popped open.
“Families fight,” safety Justin Simmons explained afterward.
These Broncos are 0-4 for the first time since 1999, and there’s nothing fluky about it. That’s who they are now, a bottom-rung operation. They are closer to the Redskins and Dolphins — the NFL’s other sad-sack 0-4 teams — than the Broncos who played 30-plus years without suffering consecutive losing seasons. This one is barreling straight toward their third consecutive.
Rest in peace, Mr. Bowlen. You are dearly missed.
“Same (expletive), different week,” Shelby Harris said.
“We’ve got to turn some (expletive) around,” Todd Davis said.
“Otherwise we’re in for another (expletive) season,” Derek Wolfe said.
Expletive, expletive, expletive.
The Broncos were done in this time by Gardner (expletive) Minshew and Leonard (expletive) Fournette. Minshew is a sixth-round draft pick who skedaddled out of sacks like his mustache comes with superpowers. He guided the Jaguars 60 yards for Josh Lambo’s game-winning, 33-yard field goal with no time left on the clock. It was a carbon copy of the Broncos’ forgettable loss to the Bears in Week 2.
Playoffs? Forget about it. Only the ’92 Chargers returned from an 0-4 start to reach the playoffs.
Fournette is still running, unless he’s finally tired by now. He had 225 rushing yards. It was a carbon copy of Darren McFadden and the Raiders running through Denver in a loss that triggered the end of Josh McDaniels here.
“We just got whipped,” Vic Fangio said.
“It’s embarrassing to have somebody run for 200-something yards on you,” Wolfe said.
The whiffed drafts by John Elway’s front office continue to haunt the Broncos. Fruitless drafts created a generational gap in the locker room. On one side, established veterans who won a Super Bowl ring. On the other, young players who stick with their own. Blow-ups between Isaiah McKenzie and Aqib Talib are now blow-ups between Simmons and the vets. Coordinator Ed Donatell spent 10 minutes in heart-to-heart conversation with Simmons, in front of the safety’s locker, after the game.
“Things will be said and things will be done, but at the heart of it is just frustration towards losing,” Simmons said.
“It’s Year 4 for me,” Simmons said. “(It was) 9-7 my first year and every year after that it’s been losing.”
The Broncos have a pair of eight-game losing streaks in the past 32 games, or two full seasons. They’re 4-12 in their last 16, or one full season. They’re not noticeably different from the Vance Joseph era. They lose all the same. Fingers crossed 0-4 opens their eyes that this is, indeed, a rebuilding job two years too late.
“When you’re 0-4 you have to evaluate,” Courtland Sutton said.
This Broncos defense rarely has faded like it did Sunday. What was once the heart and soul of a championship locker room is now like the rest of the franchise — ho, hum. Until Sunday, the Broncos never had gone four straight games without forcing a turnover. At least they got a sack — five, in fact, though it did nothing to faze Minshew, Fournette and the hearty Jags.
“We knew we were going to run the ball and that’s exactly what we did,” Jags center Brandon Linder said, twisting the knife.
Opponents now see a Broncos defense that’s there to be had — through the air, on the ground, pick your poison.
“It’s not the same defense,” Chris Harris Jr. allowed.
And this is not the same franchise that brought so much entertainment, joy, pride and reassurance to the Front Range. The Broncos have lost eight straight games, and their way.
And the scariest sound of all was inaudible. As the Broncos trudged off the field and into the tunnel, I heard no boos from the crowd of 71,954. Losing is now the expected result.