ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — After starting training camp a week before any other team, after playing five preseason games while 30 other NFL teams played four, after 18 teams already got their bye week in the regular season, the Broncos are finally at rest.
Kick back, guys. Nothing can be done this week about that disappointing 3-6 record. The 0-4 start will no doubt leave the Broncos home for the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.
But at least for the first time in a while, there are signs of progress. The Broncos have won three of their last five games entering their six-day vacation.
Here’s a look at some of the highlights, and lowlights, from the Broncos’ season heading into their bye, and what’s ahead from their final seven games:
Best win: 24-19 vs. Browns, Week 9
Eliminate emotion and as a practical matter the Broncos 20-13 victory against the Chargers in Carson, Calif. was the most significant. It was the Broncos’ first win of the season after losing their first four games. It was a division game. It was the game in which head coach Vic Fangio made pivotal defensive insertions of Alexander Johnson at middle linebacker and Mike Purcell at defensive tackle.
But beating the Browns, with a new quarterback in Brandon Allen, energized the Broncos and their community. There’s nothing like winning at home against a young, brash opponent in front of an excited home crowd to boost spirits.
Plus, the win signaled that no matter how difficult this season gets, the players are going to play hard for Fangio.
Worst loss: 6-30 vs. the Chiefs, Week 7
There was actually some excitement for this Thursday night game in front of a national audience. The Broncos had won two in a row and were at home against a Chiefs team that had been terrible on defense.
The Chiefs had lost two in a row at their Arrowhead home and were on the road with a gimpy superstar quarterback in Patrick Mahomes II.
Mahomes suffered a dislocated knee early in the second quarter – and the Broncos still got clobbered. The Chiefs defense had 8 sacks against Broncos’ quarterback Joe Flacco. The Broncos’ offense was putrid after its opening drive. And Kansas City backup quarterback Matt Moore threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill to color a few more shades of Chiefs’ red into the humiliated Broncos.
MVP – Offense: Courtland Sutton
By an eyelash over running back Phillip Lindsay. Sutton has 44 catches – two more than he had all of last year as a rookie – for 692 yards and 4 touchdowns. He’s been consistent game-in and game-out and he played big in the two games since receiver partner Emmanuel Sanders was traded away.
Lindsay has 584 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns, plus 160 yards receiving for a team-most 744 yards from scrimmage.
But Sutton gets the edge because he averages 60 offensive plays a game (92%) to Lindsay’s 31.3 plays a game (48%). Sutton has blocked well on several of Lindsay’s nice runs.
MVP – Defense: Justin Simmons
Speaking of snaps, the safety has played all 601 plays on defense. He also is tied for the team lead with 53 tackles – two for losses – and leads the team with 2 interceptions and 9 pass deflections.
Biggest disappointments: Bryce Callahan, Ja'Wuan James
They got huge contracts -- a combined $23.5 million this year -- yet the cornerback Callahan has yet to practice fully much less play in a game because of a recurring foot injury and the right tackle James has played just 32 snaps.
Top rookie: Dalton Risner
Noah Fant may already have the team-rookie record for tight end catches. And the way he’s coming on, Fant may be the Broncos’ top rookie by season’s end.
But a game past the halfway point, Risner gets the nod. Although Risner was a center most of his life and a right tackle in college, the Broncos saw a left guard when they drafted the Wiggins’ product in the second round. He lined up with the first-team offense from his first practice and has generally received the most plaudits from those who observe offensive linemen.
Risner is also an outgoing personality who seems to be building his own army of fans.
Reason for concern post-bye: Schedule strength
Four of the Broncos’ next five games are on the road. Those road opponents are 6-3 Minnesota, 6-2 Buffalo, 6-3 Houston and 6-3 Kansas City.
The Broncos will be decided underdogs in all of them and will need a split to have any chance at finishing 8-8.
Reason to pay attention post-bye: Brandon Allen/Drew Lock
It’s not just about Lock, the Broncos’ second-round quarterback who was taken one spot behind Risner. The expectation is Lock will start practicing next week, then serve as Brandon Allen’s backup either against the Chargers in game 12 or Texans in week 13, and start and play in the Broncos’ final two home games against the Lions and Raiders at Empower Field.
Lock has simply missed too much time because of a thumb injury to play much earlier.
Luckily for the Broncos, they have Allen to bridge the gap between Flacco and Lock. Allen played well in his NFL debut against the Browns, and he is line to minimally start the next two games, and possibly the next five.
Win or lose, football fans are intrigued by new, young quarterbacks.
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