ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For decades, losing was not a Denver Broncos problem.
The Broncos moved from season to season usually making the playoffs and never dipping too far below .500. From 1973 to 2017 they didn’t have back-to-back losing seasons.
But now, sitting at 0-4, after going 6-10 last season and 5-11 the season before that, they have a locker room full of players who have not lived the tradition, seen the success or felt the consistency of previous successes. Instead, they are in what wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders simply called “the world of suck,” a team that is 20-32 and on its third head coach since winning Super Bowl 50 four seasons ago.
As defensive end Shelby Harris put it Sunday following the Broncos’ second last-second loss of the season: “Same s—, different week.”
Sunday, the Broncos had a 303-yard, three-touchdown day from quarterback Joe Flacco, they got two sacks from Von Miller and the defense had five sacks overall. Those kinds of numbers should provide the framework for a victory. Now, they are football parsley on another losing plate.
“Life is not fair,” running back Phillip Lindsay said. “In life you have ups and downs. At the hardest times you can sit there and cry and whine and feel sorry for yourself, or you can keep moving forward. You have to weather the storm. After a while things even out and everything turns out OK. That is the way I go through life and that is how I will continue to go through life.”
The Broncos know no one is coming to save them. No one is going to offer them a hand, no one is going to feel bad, sad or the least bit bothered by their plight. So, they can yell at each other, as they have at times over the past month, point fingers and file away every drive-time insult or they can dig their way out of the world of suck.
That’s no small task in a city where every ticket has been sold to every home game since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. The Broncos are a regional obsession, passed down from one generation to the next, a “Green Bay West,” as Broncos assistant coach Mike Heimerdinger used to say, puts the players under a constant microscope.
Some of the Broncos’ most vocal critics — former guard Mark Schlereth, former tackle Ryan Harris, former wide receiver Brandon Stokley, former safety Nick Ferguson, former tackle Tyler Polumbus, former center Tom Nalen — are among those who have either worked, or are currently working, on the city’s abundance of daily sports talk shows. And they do not like what they see.
— Brandon Stokley (@bstokley14) September 30, 2019
How’s that top 5 defense. Yuck! https://t.co/x1fq1VjyeH
— mark schlereth (@markschlereth) September 22, 2019
— Nick Ferguson (@NickFerguson_25) September 29, 2019
— Tyler Polumbus (@Tyler_Polumbus) September 29, 2019
The team’s winningest coach, Mike Shanahan, still lives in Denver, as does Peyton Manning, Jake Plummer, Brian Griese, Randy Gradishar, Rod Smith, Karl Mecklenberg and many of the Broncos’ Super Bowl-winning players, so reminders of the team’s best years are not difficult to find.
As former linebacker Brandon Marshall said: “You don’t have to be here very long to know they don’t lose much and what’s happened the last couple years is not something people are used to, they didn’t even really know it was an option.”
“The NFL doesn’t wait around for anybody,” Flacco said. “Before you know it, we’re going to be playing again, we’re going to be lining up next Sunday. There’s no time to feel sorry for yourself or anything like that. We’re a bunch of men and you have to handle these situations as such. There’s really nothing you can do about it. You can’t go back in time and fix this thing and fix that thing. It is what it is. You have to look at yourself in the mirror and you have to be able to push it down and deal with it and move on and still play good football. … If you consider yourself a tough NFL football player, well then damn, look at yourself in the mirror, pick yourself up and get ready to go back to work.”
Consider, the Broncos have six games remaining against teams that made the playoffs in 2018. They have two games remaining against the 4-0 Kansas City Chiefs, a game at the 3-1 Buffalo Bills, seven games remaining against teams that are 2-2 at the moment (Chargers, Colts, Browns, Vikings, Texans and Raiders) and a game against the 2-1-1 Lions, who just gave the Chiefs all they could handle.
That’s 11 of their remaining 12 games against teams that are 2-2 or better. The Broncos don’t have time for a pity party.
“I still believe in them,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. “I think they’re winners as individuals. We have to find a way to be winners as a team and we’re not playing well enough consistently enough to do that, but I do believe in these guys.”
“Adversity can bring you together or it can break you,” defensive end Derek Wolfe said. ” … That’s where we’re at.”