The Denver Post - - SPORTS - MARK KISZLA Den­ver Post Colum­nist

It’s all but over for these Bron­cos, and it’s sad to watch a cham­pion like Von Miller who re­al­izes it.

Real sad­ness does not make a sound. Af­ter a 16-3 loss to New Eng­land, dis­ap­point­ment shad­owed Bron­cos line­backer Von Miller with every step on a long walk from the shower to his locker. With­out a sound, Miller strapped a watch to his wrist, draped gold chains around his neck and slowly grabbed his cow­boy hat, like a beaten man headed to a fu­neral.

The champs are dead. Long live the champs.

Den­ver is not win­ning the Su­per Bowl this sea­son. With an 8-6 record, the Bron­cos might not even make the play­offs. Miller shook his head, as if that might chase away the pain.

“I would like to be un­de­feated. That’s what I would like it to be, but we’re 8-6,” Miller said. “We’ve got to just keep play­ing.”

Oh, these guys won’t quit. But af­ter go­ing down on a bit­terly cold Sun­day with­out much of a fight against New Eng­land, there was some­thing in the eyes of the Bron­cos that I had not de­tected since they beat Carolina and won Su­per Bowl 50 way back in Fe­bru­ary, some­thing that looked like res­ig­na­tion to their sad fate. No cham­pi­onship. Not this sea­son.

We all know the prob­lem here. The Den­ver de­fense is a work of art made of ti­ta­nium and steel. The Den­ver of­fense smells like some­thing you wouldn’t feed the fam­ily dog. There isn’t a Bron­cos player that wants to talk about it.

Cor­ner­back Chris Har­ris Jr., how­ever, came clos­est to telling the ugly truth. He ad­mit­ted feel­ing sick when re­view­ing how Tom Brady had a pal­try 188 yards pass­ing yards, which con­trib­uted to a ter­ri­ble 68.2 quar­ter­back rat­ing, and yet the Pa­tri­ots won the game.

“They didn’t have to do noth­ing,” Har­ris said.

More than 70,000 Den­ver fans brought the heat on an 18-de­gree af­ter­noon, stand­ing and scream­ing as the game be­gan, try­ing to con­jure or­ange magic from a team that has tried to get by on lit­tle more than its cham­pi­onship rep­u­ta­tion. Brady, the best quar­ter­back in the busi­ness, could not com­plete a pass in the open­ing quar­ter. There was hope.

But it all went wrong from the first snap of the sec­ond quar­ter, when Trevor Siemian’s pass was in­ter­cepted by New Eng­land cor­ner­back Lo­gan Ryan deep in Pa­tri­ots ter­ri­tory. The turnover pro­pelled the Pa­tri­ots to a touch­down drive and a 10-3 lead.

Ten lousy points. But on the shoul­ders of the inept Den­ver of­fense, 10 points weighs a ton.

“(When) you’re not putting points up, it’s hard to win games. Point-blank. Pe­riod,” Bron­cos safety T.J. Ward said.

I asked re­ceiver De­mary­ius Thomas, who let a rare scor­ing chance slip away when he dropped a long pass in the sec­ond half, if he felt the Den­ver of­fense was let­ting down the de­fense.

“It’s a team sport. Hey, you’re go­ing to say what you want to say,” replied Thomas, look­ing me square in the eye. “We’re bet­ter than what we put out. I’m not go­ing to say we let them down.”

That’s balder­dash. The air goes out of the sta­dium when the Den­ver of­fense takes the field. The scheme of coach Gary Ku­biak is tired. Justin Forsett, who led the pa­thetic run­ning at­tack with 37 yards, was un­em­ployed two weeks ago. The block­ers can­not block any­body. Against the Pa­tri­ots, a first down felt like a ma­jor ac­com­plish­ment.

It all leaves the Den­ver de­fense with zero mar­gin for er­ror. And that’s sad. Bron­cos gen­eral man­ager John El­way tried to con­vince him­self this team could re­peat as Su­per Bowl champs in a year while they were break­ing in the untested Siemian as a start­ing quar­ter­back. This isn’t Siemian’s fault. The plan was prob­a­bly doomed to fail­ure from the start.

Late in the fourth quar­ter, af­ter most of the home crowd had turned its back on the de­fend­ing champs and headed for the exit, there was Ward, out on the field, slam­ming New Eng­land re­ceiver Ju­lian Edel­man to the ground with a vi­cious tackle on an in­com­plete pass. As the penalty flag for un­nec­es­sary rough­ness flew, Ward turned to the New Eng­land side­line, raised both arms above shoul­der-level, bent his el­bows and flexed his bi­ceps de­fi­antly at the Pa­tri­ots.

This de­fense dies hard. “We al­ways fight,” Ward said.

Six teams from the AFC qual­ify for the play­offs, and Den­ver is cur­rently ranked ninth in the con­fer­ence standings. Even if the Bron­cos win their fi­nal two games, against the de­spised Chiefs and hated Raiders, mak­ing the post­sea­son will re­quire teams ahead of them to stum­ble.

Miller, Ward and the guys on de­fense are too proud and too stub­born to sur­ren­der. “It’s do or die,” Har­ris said.

The Bron­cos will go to play at Kansas City on Christ­mas Day, hop­ing for a foot­ball mir­a­cle.

But it feels like this team is al­ready Scrooged.

Pa­tri­ots de­fen­sive end Trey Flow­ers sacks Bron­cos quar­ter­back Trevor Siemian dur­ing the fourth quar­ter of New Eng­land’s 16-3 win Sun­day at Sports Au­thor­ity Field at Mile High. John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

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