Af­ter sleep­walk­ing in win, Bron­cos need a swift kick

The Denver Post - - BRONCOS EXTRA - Mark Kiszla: mk­is­zla@den­ver­post.com or @markkis­zla

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.

MARK KISZLA Den­ver Post Colum­nist

Bron­cos rookie quar­ter­back Pax­ton Lynch throws a pass dur­ing the first quar­ter Sun­day against the Jack­sonville Jaguars. John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

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