Slumping Broncos Search for Answers
Broncos players, many of whom came away from Sunday's disheartening 32-3 AFC West home loss to the San Diego Chargers embarrassed, confused and bickering, know they have to regroup in a hurry.
This was a short week, and a Thanksgiving Day game at Invesco Field looms against the revitalized New York Giants (8:20 p.m. ET). Both teams are 6-4, a game behind their division leaders, the Cowboys and the Chargers, respectively.
Both have been subjected to pride-swallowing four-game losing streaks.
Unfortunately for Denver, the run of futility is ongoing (New York broke its losing streak with a Week 11 overtime win over Atlanta). And unforgiving fans, many of whom streamed out of last Sunday's rout in the third quarter, don't figure to be empathetic if the Broncos lose control of another contest.
Or lose control among themselves.
Flashback to Sunday night: Wide receiver Brandon Marshall, not renowned for his self-control, went facemask-to-facemask with rookie Knowshon Moreno after the running back fumbled at the Chargers' goal line. Moreno responded with a two-handed shove and near-bedlam broke out.
Before kickoff of that game, rookie head coach Josh McDaniels, 33, got chippy with a Chargers defensive player who engaged him in some pre-game smack. McDaniels responded by saying that the Broncos "owned" the Chargers.
Sure they did, a month ago in San Diego, when the Broncos established themselves as a second-half power, outscoring opponents 76-10 in the final two quarters during their six-game winning streak.
"It's all fun and games. We didn't look much into it," said Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips, who got his revenge by forcing a fumble when Broncos backup quarterback Chris Simms dropped back on his first pass attempt. "As a coach, I hope he has that [confident] mindset.
"But to say you own us? You beat us one time. How much has he really done in this league? He had a team 6-0, and how he's looking up at us, in second place."
Did the Broncos grow arrogant and complacent during the 6-0 run? Is McDaniels in over his head? Denver fans are certainly wondering those things. The coach, for instance, tried and failed with a curious onside kick attempt midway through the third quarter. That bit of cunning gave San Diego the ball at midfield and allowed Chargers coach Norv Turner to perform some trickery of his own: a flea-flicker from Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates was tossed to LaDainian Tomlinson for the running back's 147th career touchdown.
It's hard to believe the Broncos once maintained a 3 1/2 game division lead, for so much has changed. The Broncos' once top-ranked run defense is now 18th in rushing yards allowed per game (115.3) and no longer dominates opponents up front -- the Chargers ran for more than 200 yards against them. Quarterback Kyle Orton, battling a severely sprained left ankle that took more abuse when he took over for a struggling Simms in the second quarter, is likely one sack and pileup away from being sidelined indefinitely.
And there is this bit of ignominy hanging over McDaniels -- if the Broncos lose, he will have eclipsed longtime Denver coach Mike Shanahan, and not in a good way. In his 14 seasons as Broncos head coach, Shanahan never lost five consecutive games.
In Denver, where the Broncos are playing host to their first Thanksgiving Day game since 1963, it's Mile High time to regain some footing on the NFL season, and composure within the city's favorite team.
"We have to check it now," defensive end Vonnie Holliday said. "We have to come down fierce with it and with a hard fist. We're a blue-collar team. We're not filled with 10 or 12 Pro Bowl guys. The first six games of the season, we won games together, guys going out and putting it on the line. It wasn't always pretty and it's not going to be pretty.
"We have to find a way to claw back and get back into the game. Defensively, we have to do that. Guys are passionate. I understand. But you have to be smart about it."