DENVER—To show how pitiful, how non-competitive the Denver Broncos have been in their past five games, look back at the 2008 Detroit Lions.
That's right, the 0-16 Lions, one of the worst teams in NFL history. Those Lions never had a five-game stretch in which every loss was by 10 points or more.
The Broncos just suffered such a dubious feat after getting shellacked by the New England Patriots, 41-16, on a chilled Sunday night at Why Are They Still Calling It Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
"We (bleeping) stink,'' said Broncos' defensive end Derek Wolfe.
And he's one of the stinking Broncos' better players. What happened? What happened to that Broncos' team that whipped the Dallas Cowboys, 42-17 in week 2 of the season and had a 3-1 record entering it's week 5 bye?
"That's a distant memory,'' Wolfe said. "It's like a whole new (bleeping) team. It's embarrassing. I'm tired of being embarrassed.''
In their last five games, the Broncos have lost by scores of 23-10 (to the 1-8 New York Giants), 21-0, 29-19, 51-23 and now 41-16. The 2008 Lions, hopeless as they were, never lost five games in a row without having at least one, hard-fought, one-score defeat.
That's how bad the Broncos are playing. They haven't just lost five in a row. They got clobbered all five games. No team is playing worse.
"It's sad,'' Wolfe said. "It's sad that we went from being a championship-caliber team to a team that stinks and nobody respects us.''
With these Broncos of their five-game losing streak, it's always something. This time the culprit was horrific special teams play. Four poor special teams plays by the Broncos led directly or indirectly to three New England touchdowns and a field goal, pretty much the difference. in the Patriots' lopsided win that sent the bulk of the sellout crowd to the parking lots long before the game expired..
The Broncos, 3-1 entering their bye week, are 0-5 since, losing those five games by an average score of 33-14. It's only the second time in franchise history -- and first since 1963-64 -- the Broncos have suffered five consecutive losses by at least 10 points.
The Patriots won their fifth in a row and improved to 7-2.
Vance Joseph, a first-time head coach, took a gamble on entrusting his special teams units to a first-time coordinator in Brock Olivo. And while Olivo is an accountable, likable, intelligent and gung-ho, his units have struggled all season.
They were awful in this one.
With the sellout crowd mixed with a significant percentage of fans wearing Brady No. 12 jerseys, the first mishap occurred when Broncos’ rookie returner Isaiah McKenzie flat dropped the left-footed punt of Ryan Allen. New England recovered at the Broncos’ 24.
Two quick passes from Brady to running back Rex Burkhead and it was 7-0 Patriots.
"I just have to make better decisions, put up a fair catch,'' McKenzie said. "I need to stop trying to make a play when it's not there.''
As Patriots coach Bill Belichick pointed out after tying Tom Landry for third all-time with his 270th coaching victory: "That's not the first punt McKenzie's muffed this year.''
Look for the Broncos to replace McKenzie as their punt returner when they play next week against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"Looking forward, if he can't do the job, we have to change it,'' Joseph said.
The second, hardly special teams blunder was after Broncos’ quarterback Brock Osweiler and receiver Emmanuel Sanders answered with a nice drive that ended with a Brandon McManus field goal.
On the kickoff, the Pats’ Dion Lewis corralled the ball 3 yards deep in the end zone and ran it back 103 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown. McManus was told to kick a touchback but he apparently didn't get all of it as Lewis came out and pretty much ran along the left sideline the whole way. It was incredible how two Broncos defenders – McManus, the kicker, and Devontae Booker, the safety – were unable to push Lewis out of bounds.
That made it 14-3 Pats.
"We just got to be better on special teams,'' said Broncos' cornerback Chris Harris Jr.
The third poorly executed special teams play was when the Broncos’ Riley Dixon had his punt blocked by Burkhead, who is the quintessential Belichick-type player.
The Pats had the ball at the Broncos’ 30. Their short drive stalled at the 10 and the Pats settled for a short Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
And for special teams snafu No. 4, the Broncos had 12 men on the field during a Patriots' punt early in the fourth quarter. The five yards gave New England a first down. Brady finished up the drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to running back James White.
"Any time you give the best quarterback who has ever played this game a second opportunity to get back on the field,'' said Broncos safety Darian Stewart, "we're going to lose every time.''
Broncos’ special teams marred a tremendous performance by Sanders, who had six catches for 137 yards. He and Osweiler connected on the first offensive play of the game for 31 yards and the combo continued to move the ball between the 20s.
But three Broncos’ scoring drives stalled at the New England 21, the 15 and the 18, resulting in McManus field goals.
"We moved the ball better tonight, but we didn't score touchdowns,'' Joseph said.
Brady answered late in the first half by finishing a textbook, 75-yard, 2-minute drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dwayne Allen. Brady was 12 of 16 for 136 yards and two touchdowns at the half.
Osweiler did finish a scoring drive to start the second half with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas, who was playing in his 100th consecutive game.
But Denver's D suddenly is struggling to stop anyone. After the Philadelphia Eagles hung 51 points on the Broncos last week, the Patriots had 41 early in the fourth quarter Sunday.
Osweiler played well until throwing an interception to Patrick Chung with 6:44 left in the game. He finished 18 of 33 for 221 yards. Brady was better. Brady is almost always better. He was 25 of 34 for 266 yards with three touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Playing at 40 years old, Brady has 19 touchdown passes against just two interceptions. He was replaced with 4:32 remaining by Brian Hoyer -- the second consecutive week the Broncos were clobbered to the point the opponent sent in its backup quarterback for mop-up duty,
"It's a tough deal that we've been dealt and it's a tough situation, but it's just not coaching,'' said Broncos' linebacker Von Miller. "I know how the media and everything is, but it's not that. We just have to find a way to win games.''