After sleepwalking in win, Broncos need a swift kick
PJACKSONVILLE, FLA. » ut that coffee down. Don’t tell me about the NFL grind. Football is hard. We get it. But coach Gary Kubiak needs to wake up the Broncos before it’s too late.
Although the record says Denver is 8-4 and squarely in the playoff hunt, this is a team with a problem: Coffee’s for closers, and the Broncos seem to have forgotten how to close.
In the span of eight days, they let Kansas City off the hook and tried to blow a 14-point lead against Jacksonville. Kubiak stands on the sideline, like a man waiting on a bus, hoping his defense finds a way to win the game.
What did we learn Sunday? You mean other than maybe general manager John Elway might want to reach out to the Dallas Cowboys and inquire
about the availability of quarterback Tony Romo, bad back and all, for next season?
We learned the Broncos can beat the gosh-awful Jacksonville in their sleep. That was proved with a 20-10 victory in this sorry excuse for a big-league stadium, half covered in orange jerseys of visiting fans and half disinterested. You mean to tell me St. Louis has been deemed unworthy as an NFL city and the Chargers are ready to bolt San Diego, yet commissioner Roger Goodell is content with Jacksonville, a gas stop on the way to the real attractions in Florida? That’s incomprehensible.
I have covered nearly 500 Broncos games since Elway was a rookie in 1983, and this snoozer against the Jags ranked down there as one of the hardest to watch. Yes, rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch stunk up the joint in his second start as a pro, sailing intermediate passes high and inexplicably coming up short on deep throws when receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders got behind the defense.
“It obviously wasn’t pretty,” said Lynch, who completed 12-of-24 passes for 104 yards.
But the problem with this offense is bigger than Lynch. Denver cannot run the football, and Kubiak cannot find any imagination on his laminated sheet of plays to break this funk. The Broncos seem to have an unwritten rule against throwing passes inside the numbers; are quarterbacks Lynch and Trevor Siemian that incapable of finding windows in the middle of the field? While the Denver defense accounted for 10 points in the second half, with the biggest play a beautiful 51-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Bradley Roby, the offense produced exactly one first down during the final two quarters.
Give Kubiak a lead, and he begins to act like an elementary school kid glancing at the wall clock every 20 seconds, wondering when the bell will ring for lunch. The official length of this game was 3 hours and 7 minutes. It felt more like three years. For the majority of four quarters, there was no electricity in the stands and barely a pulse on the field, from either team.
“I could feel the fatigue in what was going on,” Kubiak said. “But we played our way through that, and we pushed our way through that. We found the juice.”
You can stop right there, Coach. Let’s hand out orange slices all around and give sincere props for the Broncos emerging victorious without their “A” game.
“What this game is about, especially at this point of the season, is finding a way to win,” said Broncos linebacker DeMarcus Ware, the wise old head of the Denver locker room. “The W is all that matters right now, because you’re trying to get in the playoffs. This is the grind. There are no style points in this part of the season.”
OK, point taken. While acknowledging the grind ain’t easy, let’s also realize it required 28 rushes for the Broncos to gain 104 yards against Jacksonville on the ground. When the cloud of dust clears, their rushing attack still ranks a lowly 28th among 32 league teams in yards per attempt. Denver punted 11 — count ’em, 11 — times against the Jaguars, whose defense should not be confused with that of the 1985 Chicago Bears.
In fact, the best Denver’s offense looked all day was shortly after the fourth quarter ended, when Siemian ambled down a hallway to an elevator that would deliver him to the locker room. He wasn’t wearing a boot or limping to protect his injured foot. While that falls short of an official medical diagnosis, bet on Siemian being back in the starting lineup for the team’s next game, at Tennessee.
“We haven’t played our best football yet,” cornerback Chris Harris said.
It’s about time the Broncos start, don’t you think?
Time’s running out for the defending Super Bowl champs to get their act together.
Broncos rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch throws a pass during the first quarter Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. John Leyba, The Denver Post