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With postseason hopes all but destroyed, Payton turns focus to next game

There’s time to process the disappointment, but the Denver Broncos will get back to the grind on Wednesday.

NFL: New England Patriots at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

This season has been an adventure, and it was really starting to look like a bright one when we secured those five wins in a row. Could we have a real shot at the playoffs?

Of course, the consecutive wins were, if anything, paying a score debt. By the time we started racking them up, we already had a 1-5 record. It was already going to be difficult to claw our way into the postseason.

Fast forward to Christmas Eve 2023. The Denver Broncos have lost to the Houston Texans and the Detroit Lions — both formidable teams — and conquered the Los Angeles Chargers in between. If they had possibly made it in as a wild card, it would’ve been as wild a card as you could get, with so many teams holding the same record just last week.

We’re all going to be feeling it for some time — knowing we [most likely] won’t see the Broncos in the playoffs, settling on another team to root for in the Super Bowl, thinking about how close we were and how being close doesn’t mean anything if you don’t make it.

In his post-game press conference on Sunday, Sean Payton acknowledged and echoed this letdown. “Obviously a disappointing finish, a really frustrating game...We had a lot of opportunities, I felt, especially in the first half. Offensively we struggled.”

“Tip our hats to New England,” he conceded, “We fought back in it. I said to the team there were six or seven different situations in that game that any one of those play out a little differently—but unfortunately, they didn’t. Our margin for error right now is not what it needs to be, and we end up on the losing end of the game.”

Payton resisted using the ‘Jim Mora playoffs’ speech on the moment. “We are not going to insert the ‘Jim Mora playoffs’ press conference. I told these guys I am disappointed. I am disappointed for them. I am sure they are too.”

Apologies to Sean Payton, but for reference, I did insert an excerpt from the speech.

Coupled with this dismay, though, is the knowledge that Denver’s season isn’t actually yet over. There’s more work to be done, more progress to be made.

“Tomorrow, you have to spend time and enjoy Christmas with your families. Then we have to come back to work Wednesday, and we have to focus on winning a game,” Payton insisted, “We had a home game today and an opportunity to keep going. We did not take advantage of it, but we have our next opportunity next week and we kind of go from there.”

I try to remember that last year, we would’ve already been eliminated from playoff contention two weeks before this. We’ve actually been in the conversation this year. That has to offer some promise for the future.

Yes, I know how defeatist that sounds; but to me, it’s significant because it shows clear improvement. I don’t think next year will simply be a repeat of this one. I think our team is going to keep their heads down and work hard during the offseason, then come back and show us something even better in 2024.

Football aside, I hope everyone reading this has a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Stay safe and warm out there!