DENVER • Saturday at Broncos Stadium at Mile High, on a clear, otherwise gorgeous night, the Broncos made history. They threw one of the worst passes in team history, trailed by one of the worst coaching decisions in team history.
This was the worst: Browns 17, Broncos 16.
We’ll get to the pass attempt later, because the coaching decision was so unbelievable I won’t believe it happened if we wait too long: Vance Joseph ordered a field goal. He ordered a three-point field goal while trailing by four points with 4:39 left. He ordered a field goal when the Broncos needed 1 yard. He ordered a field goal when there’s a better-than-not chance he will be fired in two weeks. In a stadium built for winners, the Broncos went out like losers. They didn’t go for it.
”I trust our defense to get a stop there,” Joseph said after the game.
“It was my decision to take points,” Joseph said.
A bunch of other stuff happened in front of 71,847, many of whom I could see were incredulous when Joseph opted for a field goal. They raised their arms as if to say, “You serious, Clark?” They shouted words that will put them on Santa’s naughty list. They couldn’t believe what their eyes were seeing when Brandon McManus came onto the field.
A generation of Broncos Country had never seen this happen.
The Broncos hadn’t lost to the Browns anywhere since 1990. They hadn’t lost to the Browns at one of the Mile Highs since ’72.
They haven’t seen a better sack master than Von Miller, who crushed a quarterback for the 104.5th time in his career, setting a new team record that someday Bradley Chubb could rival.
“Good job,” former sack master Simon Fletcher said on the giant video screen above the South Stands. “Way to hold up the Pat Bowlen standard of play.”
This game, this season, this era, has not been the Pat Bowlen standard of play. This was the worst.
Oh, right. Almost forgot. Back to one of the worst passes in team history. It was 8:39 p.m. when Case Keenum unloaded a duck fart. There are other and probably better ways to describe the pass attempt, but that’s the best I had at this writing. Under duress from the Browns’ pass rush, Keenum lunged to his right and let loose a lob.
Without so much as sliding to his right or to his left, Browns safety T.J. Carrie just stood there. He didn’t need to move, and the ball fell right into his hands as if Carrie — not one of Broncos — was indeed the intended receiver.
“A really poor read by me. We were feeling good and I wanted to take a shot,” Keenum said.
Coach Joseph had requested last week that Keenum “take more chances.” Two Keenum interceptions later, he’d probably like to take it back.
“I didn’t see the corner,” Keenum said. “It’s not an excuse, but it’s ultimately what lost the football game.”
Can you imagine what John Elway was thinking — for the pass, and for the field goal?
Bad Baker Mayfield took the ball and marched the Browns 48 yards for the game-winning touchdown. The Browns quarterback carries a swag not seen by a Broncos quarterback since Peyton Manning, though his game reminds more of Brett Favre. Better yet, Mayfield has earned the trust of his coaches in a short time. On fourth-and-4 from midfield, the Browns asked Mayfield to go for it — and he delivered a strike for the first down. The Broncos didn’t go for it.
They haven’t gone for it in a long, long time.
Think of the streaks that have been broken in these days of despair. Last year the Broncos were shut out for the first time in a quarter-century, 21-0 to the Chargers. They lost to the Bengals at home for the first time since 1975. They haven’t suffered back-to-back losing seasons since 1971-72. But they are on the way, with a truthful 6-8 record and two games left on the schedule.
”When you lose it’s definitely devastating,” Miller said.
John Elway, architect of The Drive, told the team’s Web site that Browns fans still tell him that he ruined their childhoods. The Broncos (6-8) no longer can say they hold a lease on the Browns (6-7-1).
The worst moment was not even when the Broncos were flagged for 12 men on the field — coming out of a timeout. It was not that the Browns had more yards, fewer penalties and four times as more rushing yards. It was not when Broncos cornerback Jamar Taylor was ejected for throwing a punch.
It was the realization the Broncos are truly worse than the Cleveland Browns. This was the worst.
(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)