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DENVER — 10 minutes. After each game, win or lose, the Broncos get 10 minutes in the locker room before the media is allowed in.
On Saturday, within 10 minutes, many players were already gone. Gone like their playoff chances. Gone like their head coach will be. Gone like the 11-game winning streak against the Browns that lasted 28 years.
“Where is everybody?” One player asked.
That’s what Broncos fans have been asking for the last two weeks.
For those who were in the locker room, they were speechless. They couldn’t wrap their head around the fact that, with all of their goals in front of them, they lost two straight games to the 49ers and the Browns.
For the second straight week, the Broncos just looked flat out bad, but at least the players on the field have a bit of an excuse. Hell, for an entire quarter, the defense had one total healthy cornerback. One.
On offense, the loss of Emmanuel Sanders has allowed defenses to key in on Phillip Lindsay and Phillip Lindsay only, making the Broncos offense, led by a mediocre-at-best quarterback, simple to stop.
Where the excuses don’t apply is with the game management of the coaching staff, namely head coach Vance Joseph. Sometimes it feels like Joseph is cursed, no matter what he does, it always ends up being the wrong decision.
This time, it was the decision to kick a field goal down four with less than five minutes to go. Yes, the points gave Denver the opportunity to win the game with a stop and a field goal, but it was just another case in which Joseph showed he doesn’t have a philosophy or identity as a coach.
Back in November, Joseph intimated that he does have a philosophy.
“I told our guys that — 4th-and-1, we’re going to go for it,” he said of a fourth-down attempt that eventually failed. “We’re trying to win the game. It’s as simple as that, and I’ll do it again.”
On Saturday, he second-guessed himself and decided to trust his defense. The same defense that was down to one total corner and had watched Baker Mayfield shred them for a touchdown their previous time on the field. The Browns went on to drive the ball 58 yards and take 2:46 off of the clock.
Denver did eventually get their chance after a fantastic fourth-down stop by Adam Gotsis, but with less than two minutes remaining and no timeouts, they weren’t able to get the job done, and the team lost to the Browns for the first time in more than 10,000 days.
I’ll put it this way, if you’re taking a multiple-choice test and you don’t know any of the answers, but you just guess “A” on every one, you guarantee you’re going to get some right.
Too often, it feels like Joseph is guessing freely on each question, opening up the chance of getting them all wrong. And unfortunately, he’s nearly gotten all of them wrong.
Now, with one loss in their last two games, Denver will ensure two losing seasons in a row, something that’s never happened in the Pat Bowlen era. In the same year that Bowlen will likely go into the Hall of Fame, that hurts.
What it means for Joseph is that his time in Denver is likely up, whether the team wins out or not. In the end, his resume in Denver has too many inexcusable losses and too many games in which his coaching cost the team.
As for Case Keenum, his time as “the guy” in Denver may be coming up, too. How can you possibly justify paying a guy $18 million when you can’t count on him to beat the 49ers and the Browns on his arm when the team needs him most?
On Saturday, Keenum was 31-of-48 for 257 yards and two interceptions, both of which looked more like a friendly game of “500” than a pass by an NFL quarterback.
Denver could save eight of that $18 million by moving on from Keenum after the season. Or they could have an expensive backup for the new guy. Or they could have an expensive backup as their starter. Again.
If I know anything about John Elway, he won’t be able to bring himself to do this thing all over again next year. Big changes are coming.
Winning streak over the Browns: Over.
Vance Joseph Era: All but over.
46-year run without consecutive losing seasons: Likely over.
Case Keenum Era: Over if they can figure out a way to do better.
Broncos fans: Over it.