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