Sadly we're now toast and officially an also ran (or should that be ran over after Jamaal Charles' spectacular efforts today?), and as we've grown accustomed to of late, that's it for another year.
So how has this season gone for our beloved Broncos?
Well, unfortunately we were the media's darling for far too much of the year - both offseason and during the regular season - and I think we petition the NFL to dispense with bye weeks. Everything was rosy - and even McD and BMarsh were talking cordially up to that point (see later!). Six wins - count 'em - and no defeats against several playoff-destined teams. The defense looked good, the offense slightly above average and the special teams our usual mediocre standards. (By the way, can anyone tell me when we last blocked a FG or a punt??)
Then we travelled to the Ravens and got handed our tail, and from then on it was pretty downhill. The sad fact of it is though, we were well in control of our destiny but got handed our papers by the Redskins and then embarrassingly, the Raiders and the Chiefs at home. There's no excuse for that. And yet we still gave two premier sides in the Colts and the Eagles a lot to think about in those matchups.
So what do we need to do to correct our failings this time out? I see several glaring problems which, once exposed, left us open to abuse from other savvy teams. I've offered a glimpse of the best and worst of the Broncos game this year. See if you agree with my comments.
For starters, we struggled to consistently shut down running attacks. Look at the recent games against the Raiders and today's dismal effort against the Chiefs. The interior of our D-line was overpowered in simple terms and our LBs overpursued in the way that teams used to against TD! Every time Jamaal Charles made a cut this afternoon, he was pretty much in open field.
Secondly, we need to get much, much more production out of a #1 running back. I don't particularly blame KnoSho, and at times it did seem as though our O-line wasn't sure if they were still a zone blocking team or a power running team, and believe me, we are not yet big enough up front to claim to be the latter. On an individual basis, I think the loss of Ryan Harris - which coincided with the Ravens' loss - was as big a blow to the team's prospects as any others you may care to mention. Chris Kuper played steady enough this year, but despite Pro Bowl accolades for Ryan Clady, I honestly felt that the line regressed some what this term, and given the failure to commit to a certain blocking scheme, this might not have been unexpected. Clady set himself a tough act to follow from his rookie year, and at times, looked lethargic this season. Hopefully, he can up his game for next year. Ben Hamilton and Casey Wiegmann are likely gone, and this might also spell the end of the line for Rick Dennison as line coach - and give McD another opportunity to put a nail in the leftovers from the Shanahan legacy.
At QB, and to put it bluntly, I felt that Kyle Orton took a lot of sh*t in my opinion. At the end of the day, if we judged him on his final stats for this season, we'd have taken them in a heartbeat, and to me that justifies that he did a good job IMHO. But like all QBs, he needs a good supporting cast around him. Sometimes he had them, sometimes he didn't, and other times, his head coach decided that he was going to pull the rug from under him just to see how he would handle some adversity. For the most part, Kyle Orton was not the problem - described as the bargain QB of the year. Then again, he wasn't the solution either. The next few months - both the CBA and negotiating a new contract - will tell how McD viewed the situation.
In respect of the receivers, some great stats were put up by BMarsh, but as we all know, this week's preparations have been conducted in the full glare of the national media. Eddie never seemed to get going, and too often we had critical drops at critical times. Harsh but true you might say. I genuinely hope that we haven't seen the back of BMarsh and that this is all posturing - but I can't help but feel that we've seen the back of #15. If that is the case, he'll be hard to replace - despite Gaffney's cameo today. On his day, Marshall cannot be covered by any DB in the league. All we can hope for is a high draft bounty if we can't tie him down pre-CBA and if he is to go. Stokley still has great hands, but as friends have said to me, if he'd still got his speed, we would have beaten the Raiders, instead of settling for a paltry FG. On the upside Brandon Lloyd looked good, but then you and I would probably have looked good against Brandon Carr today!!
Tony Scheff looks to have outstayed his welcome too. In part, I was glad to see another season out of him, since his close affinity to Cutler seemed to have him on the trading block for most of the preseason. This time, I can't see him staying around after this week's insubordination allegations. Some commentators have him going to Miami - a 3rd round pick perhaps? Daniel Graham may be regarded as a top blocker, but I just don't see the production out of him to justify the salary. I love him for his commitment, but he's getting old and slowing down etc etc...Sorry DG!
On the other side of the ball, the much-maligned D-line performed admirably for the most part, holding up plays to let the LBs make the plays, using an array of stunts and blitzes, but they began to wear down as the season went on. Personally, I was disappointed not to see more out of Chris Baker, who I'd followed closely.
In the LB corps, Dumervil's sack record came as a highlight and he was well worth it for the havoc he caused for most of the season. However - and I don't mean to be too gloomy about it all - but as in today's performance - there were too many times when he went off the radar. But, given he has achieved a Pro Bowl berth in a brand new position, my hat is most definitely off to the Doom. McD - give the man a new contract! DJ played his heart out as usual, and again, kudos to his Pro Bowl recognition. Long overdue may I say. Woodyard, Davis (despite a solid early/midseason) and others just didn't get it done - particularly against the run - frequently enough.
And then to the strength of the team this year - the DBs. For so long, the Achilles heel of the team came together, with some great performances from Andre Goodman and especially Mr Dawkins himself. The Champ was steady as ever, and Renaldo Hill was a pleasant, steadying impact in the middle of the field.
As kicker, Matt Prater has doen very well in his second season, and may well have been in Pro Bowl contention, although I'm still not sure about his nerve in the real pressure cooker moments we all used to call Elam moments! But he's still young, with a rocket for a leg, and the sky's the limit.
Sadly, the same cannot be said about the punting game. Simply too erratic.
The return game was inconsistent but gave us a few highlights, so perhaps we're turning the corner there too.
In general, the 2009 rookie class underperformed with the exception of Moreno and possibly McBath, and we will need to see more out of them next year. I'm rooting for Alphonso Smith to come through for us with the guidance he has around him in the shape of the greybeard DB corps. The problem with potential is that sometimes it isn't realised. Ask the Raiders!!
And so we come to the Head Coach, the head honcho, the main man, Coach McDaniels....
Funny game this NFL. Demonised by the media early on and under the spotlight from the get go with the high profile Cutler trade, Pat Bowlen must have wondered what he'd done in turning his beloved team over to a pup. But, to his and his team's credit, the 6-0 start soon wiped away any doubts. Winning, as we all know, eases everything. The offense did enough - and surely we must expect it's efficiency to improve with another preseason under its belt - while the defense adjusted better than any other team in the third and fourth quarters to put the clamps on our opponents - see the Cowboys, the Colts and Eagles games for testament to that. Accolades cascaded in from the media world - coach of the year citations and all of the jumping on the bandwagon that goes on amongst the so called 'experts'! And then the sky fell down, and with it - ultimately - our cast iron playoff berth! At the same time, the column inches dedicated to the Broncos started to increase not in respect of our footballing nous, but to our in-fighting. In short, this has to stop, or at least be handled in-house. Prior to this week's events, I would reckon that most of us had chalked up an easy win against a weak opponent. All that McDaniels did in making a point of highlighting the Marshall and Scheffler controversies was to distract his team from the job at hand. We were in effect in a playoff. If that was how we were to perform, perhaps it's no bad thing to have lost today...
But, to be fair, I think McDaniels has certainly put us on the right track. I read many articles on this site ranging from 2-14 to those on the Kool Aid who had us 15-1 and 16-0, all the way to Miami. I haven't agreed with how he has handled certain aspects of what a head coach faces, but let's be honest, given the schedule we had and where we have come from with the recent defenses we've put out there, 8-8 is at least creditable. In respect of the upcoming draft - I can't believe I've gone from playoff candidates to anticipating the draft on the same night - I still regret the the cost of the trade to get Alphonso Smith and Richard Quinn, who really did little to merit the value of their selections, and sadly, the Bears have probably only thrown us a high teen pick, when for much of the year, we were looking at a top 10 pick.
But so goes the life of a Broncos' fan, 'eh? There is no roller coaster on earth that can compete with our team! I hope I haven't been too damning in my comments, but I imagine that most will agree with this very brief overview. End of term grade? C+, with room for improvement. Needs to focus on the job at hand, and less daydreaming with those at the bottom of the class.
A belated Happy New Year to all Bronco fans from a disappointed Northern Ireland Bronco. There's always next year.....! Jeez, it just seems so far away now!!! Good night!