ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Coach Vic Fangio staunchly defended his embattled coordinators Pat Shurmur and Tom McMahon during the Broncos' bye week, saying he needed to help them fix the multitude of maladies that were threatening to derail Denver's once promising season.
No repairs were ever completed and the Broncos (7-9) chug into 2022 with five consecutive losing seasons and a playoff drought stretched to six years.
Most of the blame falls on a spectacularly sloppy special teams unit and an incompetent offense that renders Denver's typically stout defense inconsequential.
The Broncos' special teams were worse than ever in its 34-13 whimper against the Chargers on Sunday. Blame the COVID-19-ravaged roster for the 47-yard kickoff return to start the game or the 101-yard kickoff return they allowed for a touchdown, but there's no such handy excuse for Diontae Spencer's muffed punt at midfield that ignited LA's runaway.
The offense was wretched as usual as the Broncos twice came up short on fourth-and-goal.
Offensive lineman Austin Schlottman reported in as eligible but lined up wrong, negating Melvin Gordon's 1-yard TD run. But the failed Philly Special is what really encapsulated the Broncos' bungled season.
The audacious play-call on fourth down from the Chargers 2 called for QB Drew Lock, who had just returned from a right shoulder injury that required a pain injection, to hand off to Mike Boone, who flipped the ball to Kendall Hinton.
Chargers safety Nasir Adderley darted in unblocked and forced Hinton into a wobbly throw that Lock had to drop to one knee to catch at the 7. As Lock rumbled and lunged for the end zone, he was clobbered by Joey Bosa and Chris Harris Jr. just shy of the goal line.
Fangio acknowledged that corrections to Denver's offensive inefficiencies have been elusive, “but I'm confident that with George here, we're going to find answers to that moving forward.”
Not even a month ago, a strong case could be made for keeping Fangio in place even if Shurmur leaves as GM George Paton heads into an offseason flush with cap space and draft picks, including five of the top 100 selections.
Losses to the Bengals, Raiders and Chargers while managing to score just 10, 13 and 13 points has dropped Fangio's record to 19-29, however, and made it difficult to sell the status quo to a frustrated fan base that is leaving 10,000 seats empty every game.
Fangio said the 15-10 loss to Cincinnati and 17-13 loss to the Raiders “shows that we're close. We're close to being there. We've got to find a way to get over the top. That involves players making another play or two. That involves coaches making better calls in a situation or two per game.”
“But I believe in this team and we're on the cusp of getting to the point where we want to be.”
Paton is undoubtedly at work putting together a list of potential head coach candidates now that he has seen up close Fangio's game/clock/timeouts management and inability to find fixes to his offensive and special teams woes. Fangio threw a red flag on a play Sunday that wasn't all that close and he fell to 1 for 8 on challenges this year and 4 for 16 overall.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The offense and special teams, where the lone bright spot is K Brandon McManus, who nailed a career-best 61-yarder just before halftime, the longest road field goal in franchise history.
ILB Jonas Griffith has a team-best 34 tackles since moving into the starting lineup on Dec. 19.
Shurmur, McMahon, Fangio.
McManus and punter Sam Martin landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday. Under the updated rules governing the virus list, both could return for the season finale Saturday.
Lock (shoulder) should be a go for Saturday. “If we had practice today, obviously, he wouldn't practice," Fangio said Monday. "But we're hopeful that he'll be able to improve as the week goes and end up being the quarterback.”
LG Dalton Risner (elbow) will miss the final game. The Broncos expect to get most, if not all, of their dozen players on the virus list back this week.
1-23 — Fangio's record when trailing at halftime.
34 — Rookie WR Seth Williams, a sixth-round pick, caught his first NFL pass, a 34-yarder in the fourth quarter of his NFL debut.
The Broncos will become the first team to head into the offseason because the NFL moved their game against Kansas City to Saturday afternoon.
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