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Dissatisfying end to Broncos’ season gives way to hope for much better 2021

That’s pretty much all you can say about the Week 17 loss.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Welp.

The Broncos’ 32-31 loss to the Raiders had something for every fan.

If you were into the better draft pick, you got your wish.

If you wanted to see a clean game from Drew Lock, he gave you one.

If you were just hoping to see some big scores from the offense, Jerry Jeudy made sure you got that too.

If you love hating the Raiders, there was more evidence to support the sentiment.

If you were looking for a reason to hate the coaching staff, there was this insane timeout that handed the Raiders a one-point lead.

And if you’re a conspiracy theorist, you might put together that Melvin Gordon and Vic Fangio conspired to play a great game until the final three minutes and then use the clock to disguise their plan and just squander a lead, securing the ninth pick.

The one thing you didn’t get was a very satisfying end to a blown 2020 season.

Of all the losses this season, I hated this one the most. As you know, I hate losing to the Raiders.

But what I hate more than anything - just on principle - is Broncos losing a game they should have won.

The Denver defense forced four turnovers - something it hasn’t done all season.

The Denver offense scored more than 30 points and had no interceptions - something it hasn’t done all season.

But a lapse in strategic thinking caught up to the Broncos in the final minutes of a chance to even the series with the Raiders.

A lot of fans are furious with Fangio’s timeout called on the two-point conversion play for the Raiders to go ahead by one with under 30 seconds to go. I don’t want to excuse that poorly timed call, but I don’t see it as Fangio not understanding the implications.

I think it’s more the result of our head coach being the primary defensive coordinator as well, so he’s paying attention to the defense and what it needs to do to stop the two-point conversion and doesn’t even notice that the Raiders are confused and there was an opportunity to allow them to screw up the time and have to go for the tie.

Regardless, there’s a painful lesson there - the head coach either needs to step back from the defensive play calling more, or he needs to have a coach in charge of paying attention to those details who can insure that kind of miss doesn’t happen again. Because it turned out to be egregious.

But the even more egregious error falls on veteran running back Melvin Gordon who twice ran out of bounds, allowing the clock to stop and giving the Raiders an opportunity to score at the end - which they did emphatically.

And Jon Gruden understood all of it better than anyone - which sucks.

“Obviously very satisfying. That was the plan. That was the only plan,” he said of the final touchdown and two-point try, adding that the Raiders had some “really great” moments today and “some ugly” ones. “But like we always have seemed to do this year, we hang in there. Our defense gets us a stop and our quarterback is as good as anybody I’ve been around in those situations. He loves the two-minute drill.”

But now the 2020 season is finally over and Broncos Country can officially begin arguing about next season - which is even more interesting now that John Elway is essentially firing himself as GM and hiring a new one while he stays on as president of football operations.

Though the quarterback debate will continue, there were some questions answered about young players, namely the receiving corps is not only top-notch but has great depth - as rookie Tyrie Cleveland proved with his. The Raiders’ secondary was expected to falter, but Cleveland took advantage to his benefit.

And, of course, Jerry Jeudy finally wowed Mile High with the kind of play we were hoping for all year.

“It would be better to close off with a ‘W,’“ Jeudy said, adding that his offseason will be a lot of repetition, building off his best game yet as a rookie. “You don’t want to finish off the season with a bad game, so I made sure this game I did everything in my power to make plays and finishing strong.”

The defense - even without any starting defensive linemen, edge rushers or cornerbacks - dominated the turnovers, with two forced fumbles and two interceptions.

Dre’Mont Jones had 1.5 sacks while Malik Reed got in on half of one. Derek Carr had six batted balls by five different defenders, rookie corner Michael Ojemudia claiming two of them.

“The thing about me, I’m a fighter. Adversity always made me better and obviously I wanted things to go a little differently for most of the season, but just finishing like that, I just want to build off of it,” Ojemudia said after the game, adding that his offseason will be an important one. “I kind of know exactly what I want to work on now, so I guess you’ve got to focus on areas of concern you had during the season and try to build off of it for next season.”

The fact that the offense couldn’t take advantage of interceptions by Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson, or two forced fumbles by Ojemudia, goes on the “needs serious improvement in the offseason” list.

Lock, who had a good day on the stat sheet but couldn’t lead the offense to touchdowns after both interceptions, is making note of those. He’ll need to as all eyes will be on his development - and possibly his competition - in 2021. Especially with a new incoming GM.

“There’s without a doubt optimism—not right now, probably not for the next couple hours just because that one definitely slipped away from us,” Lock said. “In my eyes, I looked at a team that started off really young and kept growing as the year goes on. Guys started making vet plays that were just finishing up their first year of NFL football. I’m excited to grow with these guys and keep growing and make this offseason the best months of my life to be ready coming into next year.”