This is not where they Broncos wanted to be or where they thought they would be. But it is undeniably where they are. The Broncos will be sitting home for the post-season.
The Chargers made sure that would happen with a convincing 52-21 win Sunday night in San Diego.
So many of the issues that have plagued the Broncos cropped up again.
–The Denver defense just could not stop the Chargers’ offense. San Diego scored on six of its first seven possessions. The Chargers set a franchise record with 289 rushing yards. Their two running backs, LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles combined for 211 yards on 28 carries to score five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving). The Chargers had 10 possessions, scored seven touchdowns, kicked a field goal and punted once. The first half ended on one of their series. That is a really good night at the office.
“We were behind the 8-ball most of the night on defense and we just couldn’t slow them down,” head coach Mike Shanahan told 850 KOA right after the game.
–The Broncos’ offense bogged down after a quick start. They started the game with a 10 play, 73 yard drive that Tatum Bell capped with a 26-yard touchdown run to put Denver ahead 6-3. In the Broncos’ next three drives, they ran 14 plays for a net 67 yards, punted twice and had a series end with an interception in the San Diego end zone.
“We knew what we wanted to do but just didn’t get it done,” wide receiver Eddie Royal said. “We started out the way we wanted to, got some points early, but we didn’t finish.”
–The Chargers won the turnover battle by forcing two and committing none. Not only did the Chargers intercept Jay Cutler twice, but one of those picks came in the San Diego end zone and the other came at the Broncos’ 14 yard line. Tomlinson scored on the next play.
The fact is that the Chargers were the better team on Sunday night and they deserve to go to the playoffs. Despite their 8-8 record, the Chargers are playing like a playoff team.
The Broncos close the season with three straight losses and they surrendered a three-game lead in the AFC West with three games remaining. They miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
“I told them (the team) that it just takes one game,” Shanahan said. “We had our opportunities to put it (a playoff berth) away and didn’t take advantage of it. It’s really disappointing to end the season the way we did.”
And so it is. It’s not hard to figure out why:
–A 4-1 start crumbled into a 4-7 finish, with a loss at Kansas City and losses at home against Jacksonville, Oakland and Buffalo during the course of the year. Those four teams had a combined record of 19-45.
–The Broncos allowed an average of 146.1 rushing yards per game, 27th in the NFL. Meanwhile, their leading rusher, Michael Pittman, had only 320 yards. The Broncos put seven running backs on injured reserve. That’s not an excuse, that is a fact. If a team cannot run the ball consistently, it will likely have trouble winning consistently.
–The Broncos intercepted only six passes all season. Only the 0-16 Lions had fewer. The Broncos recovered only seven fumbles all year, tied for 26th in the league. The Broncos were minus-14 in the turnover department. Christmas cannot last for four months in the NFL.
–They also lost their best defensive player (CB Champ Bailey) and their three starting linebackers for a good portion of the year. Again, that is not an excuse; they were hardly a stellar defense early in the season when those guys were healthy. But it didn’t help.
Despite all of that, the Broncos still had a terrific opportunity to get to the playoffs. But now that is gone, the biggest disappointment from a maddening 2008.
The offseason is here for the Broncos. When it comes to player personnel, what should be their top priority for the 2009 season?
Thanks for reading all year long and posting your thoughts. Keep checking back, I’ll likely have some thoughts through the playoffs and the off-season.
All the best,