Despite all of the excitement late in today's game, the Denver Broncos just finished the season a woeful 4-12. This was their worst finish since the War of 1812.
So what do the Broncos do now besides pick 2nd in next year's draft? Bring in their own war veteran, John Elway.
Good luck, John. I know you're about the closest thing to Chuck Norris the Broncos have ever seen, but the NFL you left a dozen years ago isn't the NFL you're about to re-enter.
You once drove 98 yards while being pelted with dog biscuits. That's going to seem like a cakewalk compared to what you're getting into now.
Your owner wants to win now; the boss' right-hand man is a guy who measures success by dollars spent per box seat; your general manager is a guy who just said that the ideal way to win in the NFL is to run the ball half the time; after you find a head coach, your other order of business it to try and figure out who is going to be the franchise's quarterback for the next decade.
Oh, and the fans? They've seen so much drama in the last two years, they'd prefer an re-run of Lost to yet another Broncos front-office change.
If you can succeed at this monumental task, you truly are the greatest of all time.
Let's get to The Positives, The Negatives, and The Who The Heck Knows.
1) The entire defense looked great in the first quarter outside of the first running play. Since I'm the biggest fan of the blitz you'll ever find (some would call it stalking), of course I enjoyed seeing the strong safety blitzes from Dawkins. Because of the way the Chargers scheme their passing game (a lot of 7-step drops and deep zone routes), these kinds of late blitzes can work. Renaldo Hill's interception was a great safety read that only a veteran could make. Don't kid yourself, though. The Chargers are not the same team without Antonio Gates.
2) All Wesley Woodyard does is crush people. I'm not sure why this guy hasn't become a starting linebacker in this league, but it's about time he got the chance. He's easily the best Broncos linebacker in coverage as well, although that's not an award worth a lot this year. The Broncos need to retain Woodyard. I'm comfortable with a linebacking corps of Woodyard, Joe Mays/Mario Haggen, Robert Ayers, and Elvis Dumervil going into next year if pressed. How could I leave DJ Williams off this list? The Broncos need draft picks, of course.
3) I've criticized DJ Williams extensively before, but on the second series of the game he took advantage of a protection mistake by right tackle Jeromey Clary for an early sack. On the next play in man coverage on the edge, he kept the Chargers from getting a critical 3rd down. Then, a series later, he got out of position again and I thought about deleting this entire bullet point. Then he got another sack and I typed the paragraph again. Such is the enigma that is DJ Williams.
4) One of the great things about Tebow is that even if he's having an off passing day, his wheels still work just fine, thank you.
5) I know it didn't show on the stat sheet today, but Knowshon Moreno made positive yards out of some horrible plays against a tough run defense. His two years in Denver have been filled with injuries and marked by an offensive line that hasn't given him much space with which to work. The Broncos will probably address running back in the draft.
6) Andre' Goodman played as well today as we've seen him play in a long time.
Clay Vaughn was spectacular on his kick return TD. Lance Ball also contributed on the play with a nice block. Nate Keading's weak-sister attempt at slide tackling Vaughn was disgusting. There should have been a flag on that play.
8) Tim Tebow, as David Treadwell pointed out on the radio broadcast, plays best when he does so with pace. That's some great advice for the next regime to remember--if they decide to keep Tebow as quarterback.
9) The Broncos did get pressure today through some creative blitzes from Wink Martindale. It's not enough to save his job, but at least Wink went down swinging.
10) At the end of the game, Brandon Lloyd still had 73 yards receiving on only five catches. I guess I should be surprised, but I'm not.
1) If the opening kickoff doesn't hit Darren Sproles in the facemask, he probably doesn't trip; rather, he's still running.
2) I'm blaming Lloyd's drop on the first series on the sun being in his eyes. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
3) Tebow's first interception was classic deep safety, over-the-top coverage. One can understand such a throw if Lloyd had been singled up, but this was not the coverage to go deep against--especially when he had receivers open in the middle of the field. Tebow also had some serious trouble with his accuracy today. His quarterback rating in the first half (43.4) was lower than his passing yards (49). By the middle of the 3rd quarter, his rating had dipped to 35.1. Tebow's 2nd interception was just a throw in which he didn't lead his receiver Demaryius Thomas enough.
4) Ryan Mathews can break tackles--a lot of tackles. Or should I rephrase this? The Broncos can sometimes miss tackles--a lot of tackles. Although the defense played well in the 1st half today, remember - the Broncos can suddenly go for long stretches in which they arm tackle with the
best worst of them. Today you saw several such stints. Many of them resulted in big plays.
5) I'm renaming Vincent Jackson "Vampire Jackson" because he sucks the momentum out of the Broncos' defense with big plays. For the record, Jackson went to school at Northern Colorado and Malcom Floyd at Wyoming. Both were late bloomers. Both are large and in charge.
6) If Eddie Royal is in the game and no one even notices, does that mean he doesn't exist? Royal has been largely ignored during the last two years in Josh McDaniels' offensive system. Not only does the new head coach have to figure out the defense, he'll also have to figure out the future of Eddie Royal in Denver.
7) If you are going to throw the ball in the NFL, the best time to do it is on 1st down, and out of play action. We again witnessed why this is true today. One of the differences between the Broncos last week and the Broncos this week was their ability to play action. While the Chargers' defense is much better than the Texans' defense, play action works on everyone.
8) The Chargers aren't doing anything spectacular when their receivers simply jog up the seams and wait for a pass from Rivers. But when you play a lot of 3-deep coverage with a safety out in centerfield, your defense simply has a hard time defending the seam.
9) Mike McCoy occasionally forgets that Tim Tebow has an arm and a group of wide receivers.
10) The play that epitomizes the Broncos' entire season? A 4th-and-1 touchdown run by the Chargers. I take that back. The play that epitomizes the Broncos' entire season? After returning a kickoff for a touchdown, the Broncos gave up five thousand yards on the subsequent kickoff return.
The Who The Heck Knows?
1) Right before the game, Adam Schefter reported that John Elway is going to talk to Jim Harbaugh about becoming the Broncos coach when he attends the Orange Bowl tomorrow. Sure, Elway wants Harbaugh, but why would Harbaugh want Elway and the Broncos?
2) Let's blame the drop by Lloyd on the first series on the sun. That's my theory. You're still not going to tell me any differently.
3) Watching the ball slip out of Phil Rivers' hand wasn't ironic (unless you're Alanis Morissette). It was just funny as hell. So was his weak attempt at arguing with the referees about the intentional grounding call. Mario Haggan putting Rivers on his arse when he tried to play Dan Marino was a little slice of heaven.
4) It appears as if Eric Studesville
hasn't done anything completely stupid has done enough to remain on staff, whether the new head coach wants him or not. You don't take this train wreck over for Mr. Bowlen and not get rewarded in some way.
5) What can one say about Perrish Cox? He was picked on almost exclusively today by Phil Rivers. But if you're not a fan of Cox's play, just wait a few months. He's part of the reason the Broncos may have to draft a cornerback with their first pick (more on that in a bit).
6) I never thought I would see the Lonesome Polecat formation in the NFL again. But I was wrong.
7) Thanks for your time here, Kyle Orton. I know the mountains and the outdoor lifestyle fit your "green" sensibilities. However, the Broncos want draft picks, they have to replace three quarters of their defensive starters, and you're standing in the way. My personal hope for you? Josh McDaniels ends up in San Francisco and you finally get a defense that allows you to play in games when you're not trailing by two touchdowns.
8) Craziest but most interesting question emailed to me during the week? Why doesn't Pat Bowlen look at ways to increase the decibel level at Invesco Field? I'm not sure how that's done, but perhaps putting up a giant bronze of Joe Ellis would keep the sound in the stadium a little longer.
9) Now that the Broncos have the 2nd pick in the draft, they can increase the value of this pick with another easy move--re-sign Champ Bailey. This allows them to trade down (if possible) and accumulate an additional pick or two. Not re-signing Bailey would put the Broncos in the position of almost having to draft Patrick Peterson from LSU. This isn't a bad move (who wouldn't want arguably the most talented cornerback to enter the draft since Bailey himself), but it takes away another opportunity for the Broncos to address the defensive line with a player like Marcell Dareus (or insert your favorite defensive lineman here). The additional benefit of signing Bailey? You can get another 3-4 years from him at free safety. Elway and Brian Xanders would be smart to make this move as soon as there is even an inkling of a CBA agreement in place.
10) Already a candidate for most unavailing and pandering propaganda of 2011? Xanders' endorsement of John Elway's hire earlier today. The supportive comment from old friend and consumate redneck Bubby Brister was more compelling. At least Brister has no obvious reason to kiss up. All he does is hunt and fish.
As always, feel free to give us your thoughts below. The season has been a long one. Where should the Broncos go from here?