It’s not that John Elway hasn’t experienced losing - or even losing seasons.
It’s that No. 7’s losing seasons as a Broncos quarterback were few (just two) and far between (1990 and 1994) - and a win was always within reach.
During the Broncos’ 5-11 season in 1990, seven losses were by less than a touchdown and four of those seven were by less than a field goal.
Not so much this season.
And Elway has an idea why it’s happening.
The Broncos got “soft.”
“I will tell you, I think we got a little bit soft,” the GM said Friday night following the Ring of Fame induction ceremony. “To be dead honest with you, we got a little bit soft. We went 4-0 in preseason. We started out 3-1, we get a bye week—if you exhale in this league, you’re in trouble. To be dead honest with you, I think we exhaled. It’s hard to recover from that.”
Of the Broncos’ last five losses in a row, three have been by more than three touchdowns and one of those was the team’s first shutout in decades. For a team that was boasting a Super Bowl championship based on its defense just two seasons ago, this is unacceptable.
“You’re going to lose football games in this league, but the way that it’s gone about and not being competitive is probably what concerns me the most,” Elway said. “We have to learn to be able to battle through those [mistakes].”
And that’s what is disappointing the current GM the most about the Broncos’ 3-6 record, which has the 2015 Super Bowl champs sitting last in the AFC West and facing a second season in a row of not making the playoffs - two things practically unheard of in Dove Valley.
“It’s always tough. ...but the way that we’ve lost these games has been the most disappointing thing,” Elway said, adding that he still believes in the guys fighting to change the momentum. “I think we have the right type of guys. They understand that and they’re working hard. The desire is still there. They know the expectations. We’re not out of this thing. We’re not going to say never until they say you’re no longer in the hunt. We’ve got to start on Sunday with playing well against the Bengals.”
Elway emphasized that his belief in head coach Vance Joseph hasn’t wavered either - especially for a guy in his first stint at the helm with a staff of inexperienced coordinators and coaches.
“There are going to be growing pains just like with players. You’ve got to give them a chance to grow and get better and learn from certain situations,” Elway said. “Obviously it’s been a little bit of a tougher situation, but sometimes you learn a lot more in tougher situations than when things are going good. Vance, in my mind, is doing just fine and continues to get the guys to play hard. The energy is still there. We’ll work our way through it.”
The GM noted that the losing streak has definitely been tough on Joseph.
“Any time you go through a stretch like this, it’s very tough on anybody. I don’t care if you’ve been a coach in this league for 50 years, or it’s your first year as a head coach,” Elway said, reiterating that players still want to play hard for their coach. “We just have to overcome the mistakes and stop making those mistakes. Hopefully good things will happen.”
Elway wouldn’t commit to any particular answers regarding whether Paxton Lynch may see playing time this season, saying instead that he’s looking one game at a time.
“I mean this when I say this, I’m not looking past Sunday. ...Everybody has an answer and everybody has a solution, but the bottom line is those aren’t that easy. The bottom line is that how you get out of these slumps is you’ve got to work hard day in and day out,” Elway said. “That’s why we’re not looking past tomorrow.