BRONCOS

This year was supposed to be different for the Broncos, and it is — it’s worse

Oct 23, 2022, 9:14 PM | Updated: 9:29 pm
Nathaniel Hackett...
(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

DENVER — It’s not that this game was so bad in and of itself. The Broncos’ 16-9 loss to the New York Jets was inelegant. But it was also forgettable. There were probably more madcap moments in the Week 5 defeat to the Indianapolis Colts 17 days earlier.

It’s that it’s the same thing, week after week, year after year.

Coaches change. Quarterbacks change. Schemes change. And the results are the same.

Since Super Bowl 50, the Broncos lead the league in one statistic: Losses when allowing fewer than 20 points. Sunday’s defeat was their 18th such loss since Peyton Manning retired. No one else has more than 15.

“I’m sick of being up here saying the same thing over and over again,” beleaguered coach Nathaniel Hackett said.

Welcome to the club, Coach.

Broncos Country is sick of watching the same thing, too. The only difference is that they’ve seen this type of football for nearly six years.

The Broncos announced 5,838 no-shows, the highest total of the season. But there were swaths of empty seats throughout the stands throughout the game.

And by the time Brett Rypien’s fourth-and-3 attempt to Courtland Sutton with 2:00 left in the game fell incomplete, many Broncos fans had seen enough.

Never mind that the Broncos trailed by just 7 points and still had all three timeouts, ensuring that a three-and-out would give them one last shot with 90 seconds remaining — and it did. When Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner broke up the pass, roughly half of the fans turned and headed for the exits.

This is a fan base that has seen enough. It is losing hope faster than leaves fell from Colorado trees on this windswept autumn weekend.

***

SAME STUFF, DIFFERENT WEEK

After the game, media gathered in the Broncos locker room and stood together in the middle of the room for a couple of minutes, watching as Bradley Chubb forlornly removed his gloves. Chubb remained in full uniform some 20 minutes after the final whistle.

The media watched and waited. What do you ask when the defeats are the same, week after week? When it comes down to the essence of losing, what was different about this week than Week 6? Or Week 5? Or any number of defeats over the years in which the defense’s good work was wasted?

The players knew it, too.

“It’s probably just as frustrating as you guys having to come in and ask the same questions,” said wide receiver Courtland Sutton. “Obviously, we don’t want to go out there and have a poor performance that leads to us having a loss and leads to you guys having to come in here and ask us why we scored only nine points.”

These questions weren’t supposed to happen.

This year was supposed to be different.

The Broncos hired an offensive-minded head coach after two defensive coaches flamed out in two and three seasons, respectively. They traded for a nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback and gave him a contract extension that included $165 million of guaranteed money.

All of that was supposed to end an era of football in which the defense kept the Broncos in game after game, only to be let down by its lagging offense.

Only the delusional one thought it would be perfect right away. But it was fair to expect an average offense while the Broncos smoothed out the rough edges.

Instead, the Broncos produce fewer points than anyone in the sport.

They make passing the football seem as difficult as passing a kidney stone.

And they can’t generate explosive runs, either. They don’t have a 20-yard run all season.

“Frustration. Disappointment. Anger. Sadness. All of the above,” Sutton said.

***

THIS OFFENSE IS HISTORICALLY BAD

So, in a manner of speaking, maybe it’s not the same.

Because it’s actually worse.

Through seven games, the Broncos have 100 points. That’s their lowest total at this point in the season since 1992 — when they also had 100 points.

They have more games with fewer than 17 points through seven games than any Broncos team since 1966.

And finally, they have just 8 touchdowns. That is the fewest through seven games in Broncos history.

And coming out of halftime? Woof.

Whatever adjustments happen in the locker room, they’re not working.

In seven third quarters this season, the Broncos have 5 points. And 2 of them came on a safety. If you extrapolated that scoring rate over a full 60-minute game, the Broncos would average 1.43 points per 60 minutes.

Denver has 6 second-half points in its last three games. And both came on drives that didn’t even net a first down — set up by interceptions that gave the Broncos the ball at the opposition’s 30- and 27-yard lines, respectively.

It’s still fair to place the blame in multiple directions. Russell Wilson hasn’t seen the field well enough. Denver’s pass-catchers dropped too many passes. The offensive line has advanced in fits and starts.

But after Sunday, more and more has to fall at the feet of Hackett and his staff, who seem to fix one glitch only to have three more arise. Some of it is beyond their control. Injuries robbed them of Tim Patrick, Garett Bolles and Javonte Williams. But the offense wasn’t exactly tearing up the league with Bolles and Williams playing, either.

Somehow, a franchise whose offense vacillated between mediocre and inert saw it get worse in the last seven games.

And Broncos Country has no more patience to sit through this.

***

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This year was supposed to be different for the Broncos, and it is — it’s worse