Fo­cus turns to 2017

Bron­cos stum­bling to­ward 2016’s fin­ish line, with no playo≠ berth

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nicki Jhab­vala

Gary Ku­biak doesn’t want to use the word that has been cir­cu­lated the most in de­scrib­ing his team’s per­for­mance Sun­day at Kan­sas City’s Ar­row­head Sta­dium. The Bron­cos weren’t flat, the coach said. Their 33-10 blowout loss to an AFC West ri­val on the road wasn’t for lack of ef­fort, he added.

So what really hap­pened Sun­day against the Chiefs, when the Bron­cos al­lowed 243 yards and three touch­downs in the first quar­ter alone, and saw their play­off hopes van­ish?

“We just didn’t play well enough as a team to win,” Ku­biak said Mon­day. “That’s as poor as we’ve played de­fen­sively, and we’ve been pretty con­sis­tent de­fen­sively. Of­fen­sively, we’re not mak­ing the most out of pos­ses­sions. We had two pos­ses­sions in the sec­ond half with seven min­utes re­main­ing in the game. We turned the ball over on spe­cial teams. It was a group ef­fort. It was not good enough as a group, coaches or play­ers.”

But it hasn’t been for weeks. The Bron­cos (8-7) played their worst when they needed to play their best, but frus­tra­tion had been build­ing as prob­lems two years in the mak­ing have gone un­re­solved: the lack of a run­ning game, the por­ous of­fen­sive line and the ab­sence of a true iden­tity on of­fense.

First-year start­ing quar­ter­back Trevor Siemian had his worst out­ing at Kan­sas City and “has to play a (heck) of a lot bet­ter than he did,” Ku­biak said. But Siemian also av­er­aged more than 300 yards pass­ing in his pre­vi­ous six starts.

In­juries are partly to blame for Den­ver’s slide, as they landed full­back Andy Janovich (hand) and start­ing tail­back C.J. An­der­son (knee) on in­jured re­serve, and have lim­ited many key starters on both sides of the ball.

“I would just say what we be­came, from two backs to one back to some of the things that we did a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ently,” Ku­biak said. “That’s not an ex­cuse; I’m not telling you that. We be­came that last year and we found a way to sur­vive and still be suc­cess­ful. That’s part of foot­ball. When you lose peo­ple, you have to ad­just.”

And so be­fore the Bron­cos boarded a plane home from Kan­sas City late Sun­day, Ku­biak told his play­ers to try to clear their heads and be­gin to look ahead to next sea­son. This sea­son was lost. The fi­nale against Oakland in Den­ver on New Year’s Day holds lit­tle value, save for pos­si­bly another au­di­tion for rookie quar­ter­back Pax­ton Lynch and other young play­ers, should Ku­biak de­cide to rest some veter­ans.

“I’d like to sit here and say that we’ll play ev­ery­body,” Ku­biak said. “I’ll make a de­ci­sion on Pax­ton. We’ll see. We got home at 3:30 in the morn­ing, so I haven’t made any de­ci­sions to­day. I’ll make those in the next cou­ple of days.”

The flight af­forded Ku­biak time to re­flect, as well. To look back on this sea­son and last, and to think about the ef­fort of his play­ers and the work of his coaches. To com­pare all that went right en route to win­ning Su­per Bowl 50 and the many things that went wrong in the Bron­cos’ ti­tle de­fense.

“Last year, we played in a lot of really close foot­ball games,” Ku­biak said. “The thing we did last year, we were able to get leads in games. Peo­ple had to play dif­fer­ently against us. They had to throw the ball. You go back to the play­offs, we scored first in all three of those play­off games, in the first pos­ses­sion.

“We haven’t got­ten any­body in that po­si­tion here in the last month. I think that’s been a big dif­fer­ence. Even though we’ve been in some close games, we haven’t been able to get some­body to play from be­hind and let our guys rush the passer, which is what we do best. It’s been tough.”

And it was never more mag­ni­fied than Sun­day. Against the Chiefs, the Bron­cos gave up 21 points on three scor­ing drives that each topped 75 yards.

This sea­son the Bron­cos have scored a to­tal of only 17 points on their first pos­ses­sions, tied for third-fewest in the NFL. But they have al­lowed 55 points on op­po­nents’ first pos­ses­sions, tied for sec­ond-most in the league. Den­ver has dug it­self holes too deep to climb out with its slow starts and a league-worst, firstquar­ter scor­ing dif­fer­en­tial of mi­nus-61.

“We had our­selves in a pretty good po­si­tion about four or five weeks ago,” Ku­biak said. “We just haven’t played well enough, es­pe­cially of­fen­sively, here down the stretch to con­tinue to play some more. So it’s dis­ap­point­ing.”

But the prob­lem is not new. And it’s not un­like the many oth­ers Ku­biak and gen­eral man­ager John El­way will as­sess and try to cor­rect in their ex­tended off­sea­son.

One de­ci­sion Ku­biak has al­ready made? Look­ing ahead. Eyes are on 2017, not the end of 2016.

All-pro out­side line­backer Von Miller, the MVP of Su­per Bowl 50 last sea­son, walks to­ward the Bron­cos’ locker room at Kan­sas City’s Ar­row­head Sta­dium after their 33-10 loss to the Chiefs on Sun­day night. The Bron­cos are 4-7 since their 4-0 start to the 2016 sea­son. John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post

Bron­cos kicker Bran­don McManus is stopped short of a first down on a fake field-goal at­tempt Sun­day night at Kan­sas City.

John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

Bron­cos coach Gary Ku­biak, far left, and quar­ter­back Trevor Siemian dis­cuss a play call Sun­day night at Kan­sas City’s Ar­row­head Sta­dium.

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