Ex-champs must un­load dead weight

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

In the end, the fi­nal words of the NFL champs were: No mas.

Know what’s sad­dest about the demise of the Bron­cos, sad­der than the 33-10 loss to Kansas City that elim­i­nated them from the play­offs? Den­ver quit.

Check that. The truth is worse. Den­ver did not come to play. The Bron­cos went down with­out kick­ing. And the only scream­ing to be heard was from fans who had their hol­i­day din­ner ru­ined by this pa­thetic per­for­mance.

“We need to move on to next year,” coach Gary Ku­biak said Sun­day night. Af­ter the loss, he told the Bron­cos that 2016 was his­tory, it was a big dis­ap­point­ment and to get it out of their

sys­tem be­fore the team plane touched down back in Den­ver.

OK, let’s take Ku­biak at his word. Next year be­gins now; 2016 is all over ex­cept the pink slips. With only a mean­ing­less fi­nale against Oak­land left on the sched­ule, the only ques­tion that re­mains for Den­ver: Who gets fired?

Can we stop pre­tend­ing Trevor Siemian is the quar­ter­back of the fu­ture? He’s not a star. He’s a Skit­tle. Sweet while it lasted, which was not for long. Props to Siemian for win­ning the job by de­fault, when first-round draft choice Pax­ton Lynch quickly proved to be too raw to start as a rookie. But Siemian has been ex­posed as a quar­ter­back un­com­fort­able work­ing in the pocket. The devel­op­ment of Lynch needs to be­gin in earnest now, be­gin­ning with a start against Oak­land on Sun­day.

There’s noth­ing tougher than fir­ing a friend, but Ku­biak must either re­as­sign of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Rick Den­ni­son or help him find a job with an­other foot­ball team. At the mid­way point of this NFL sea­son, the Bron­cos were 6-2. While los­ing five of their past seven games, how­ever, Den­ver has av­er­aged 16.9 points per game, which is worse than em­bar­rass­ing. It’s ane­mic.

Don­ald Stephen­son and Ty Sam­brailo, who took turns mess­ing up at right tackle, must go. The one ugly im­age that no­body in Bron­cos Coun­try will be able to block from mem­ory is how this team couldn’t block any­body.

“We’re not play­ing well of­fen­sively. I’m re­spon­si­ble for that. I’ve got to do a bet­ter job,” Ku­biak said.

No­body dreams of a wet Christ­mas. A hard rain be­gan to fall on Ar­row­head Sta­dium an hour prior to kick­off. For the ma­jor­ity of the open­ing half, need­ing a vic­tory to keep their play­off hopes alive, the Bron­cos acted as if they wanted to book a trip to the beach, curl up with a co­gnac by the fire­place, or be any­where but here.

The Chiefs scored three touch­downs in the first quar­ter, on a ground-and-pound drive, a 70-yard bolt out of the blue by Tyreek Hill and an 80-yard rum­ble by tight end Travis Kelce on a 1-yard pass by quar­ter­back Alex Smith, who sel­dom throws the foot­ball far­ther than he can spit.

A year ago, the Bron­cos were one of the great­est de­fenses in NFL his­tory. But if they try to brag about this D, which has de­vel­oped a nasty habit of sleep­walk­ing into trou­ble, tell cor­ner­back Aqib Talib to sit down and shut up. The Chiefs me­thod­i­cally marched 77 yards for a touch­down on their first pos­ses­sion, and only Cleve­land’s de­fense has been more de­fense­less on the open­ing drive of games in 2016 than Den­ver.

OK, credit where it’s due. With­out an in­ter­cep­tion and a big re­turn to the K.C. 6-yard line opted for a fake.

McManus took the ball and ran through the slop. But he’s no mud­der. I move quicker on my 3 a.m. old-man run to the bath­room than McManus did. He got dragged down. Den­ver did not score, did not even move the chains.

Safety Dar­ian Ste­wart ad­mit­ted the Bron­cos were go­ing to have to take the abuse di­rected at fallen champs un­til next sea­son. Line­backer Von Miller, how­ever, vowed the team will be back stronger than ever.

“We’ve got great lead­er­ship from the top down,” Miller said. “John El­way is a mas­ter­mind.”

For the first time since El­way be­came gen­eral man­ager, Den­ver is play­ing for next year be­fore this year is of­fi­cially over. The Bron­cos are no longer the champs. They are an NFL team with more ques­tions than an­swers.

Bron­cos out­side line­backer Shane Ray walks off the field at the end of the game Sun­day night at Ar­row­head Sta­dium af­ter Den­ver was elim­i­nated from the post­sea­son for the first time since the 2010 sea­son, when Kyle Or­ton was the start­ing quar­ter­back and Tim Te­bow was a rookie. John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

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