With the Broncos 17-16 loss to the Browns Saturday night, the final nail was put into the coffin of Denver’s playoff dreams.

Now the Broncos will once again turn their eyes towards next season, which holds much more promise. Denver’s rookie class possesses two starting caliber running backs, two good receivers, an elite pass rusher, a strong linebacker, and a corner that all showed a lot of promise this year, and should only continue to grow into next season.

Meanwhile, the Browns kept their playoff hopes alive for at least one more week thanks to poor performances from the Broncos coaching staff and running game.

Three Up

1. Once again, Denver’s collection of rookie pass catchers continued to impress. Courtland Sutton bounced-back from an awful performance in San Francisco that saw him get his third-worst grade of the season (53.8) from Pro Football Focus. Against the Browns, Sutton enjoyed a couple of big catches, but just missed a touchdown opportunity on a 50/50 ball on Case Keenum‘s first interception of the game. Though the blame falls on Keenum there, had he put a little more under it, that should have been Sutton’s fourth touchdown of his rookie season.

DaeSean Hamilton followed up his strong showing against the 49ers with another impressive outing against the Browns. For the second week in a row, Hamilton led the team in receptions with seven, and was second in yards with 46. Hamilton already looks like a gem, and like he could be the Broncos’ slot receiver of the future just a couple of games in, thanks to crisp route running and reliable hands.

2. Another diamond in the rough the Broncos may have found at wide receiver is Tim Patrick. Patrick played exceptionally on Saturday, leading the team in receiving yards for the second straight week. Patrick, along with Hamilton, had his coming out party last weekend against the 49ers going for 85 yards on seven receptions. He’s also been able to consistently use his body as a shield to catch Keenum’s back-shoulder passes.

However, Patrick did have a bad drop, deep in Cleveland territory but was quick to bounce back. A future receiving corps of Sutton and Patrick on the outside with Hamilton in the slot seems likely for the Broncos, and that’s a good thing. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to draft another receiver this year, but in Emmanuel Sanders‘ absence, no player has stepped up more than Tim Patrick.

3. The next Broncos individual on the uptick has to be defensive end Adam Gotsis. Gotsis has had his best season as a Denver player this year and it manages to just keep getting better.

Saturday night, against the Browns, Gotsis tied his career-best with five tackles. It was a mark he set back in Week 1 of last season against the Chargers. Gotsis and the rest of the Broncos’ defense were able to bottle up rookie-phenom Nick Chubb for much of the game.

Beyond just being a consistent run stuffer, Gotsis made two of the three biggest plays Denver’s defense had all day. First, Gotsis forced a huge fumble on a strip-sack of Baker Mayfield in Denver territory. The Browns were on a nine-minute drive to open the second half, in which the Broncos looked entirely incapable of stopping them until Gotsis’ strip-sack. The turnover gave the Broncos momentum and led to them taking a 13-10 lead late in the third quarter.

Gotsis’ second big play came on a Browns’ fourth-down attempt late in the game. It was fourth-and-inches and with a first down the Browns would have won. Mayfield handed the ball to Chubb up the gut, only to be swallowed up immediately by Gotsis for a loss of two. The offense wasn’t able to capitalize, but Gotsis gave them the opportunity to win with a field goal, on what would’ve been the biggest play of the game had the Broncos been able to pull off the victory.

Three Down

1. The competition for the top spot is fierce, but it has to go to Phillip Lindsay and the rest of Denver’s ground attack.

Phillip Lindsay is one of the greatest stories in the NFL this season, let alone in Denver. Lindsay looks like he could be the Broncos running back for years to come, but over the past two weeks when the offense has needed him most, he’s come up short.

On his 14 carries, Lindsay was able to only pick up 24 yards, beating his 30 yards on 14 carries performance from last week. He also had fewer receiving yards on the same amount of receptions.

It wasn’t just Lindsay though, the Broncos running game as a whole was shut down. With 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Broncos had recorded just 14 rushing yards on the night. That’s unacceptable from a team who’s supposed to be leaning on their strong run game now.

2. Denver’s secondary also played poorly on Saturday night. The already injury-riddled unit was able to limit the Browns’ attack for much of the game but came up short when it counted.

Towards the end of the first half, the Browns went on a field goal drive that was kept alive in large part thanks to the Broncos’ secondary. Denver was called for three different defensive holding penalties, two of which came on third down stops, to keep the Browns’ drive moving.

The secondary, which was already among the least deep units in the league, lost two more pieces against the Browns. First, there was Jamar Taylor who was ejected after getting a little chippy with a Browns receiver and throwing a punch. Then there was Brendan Langley who went out of the game with a nasty concussion.

If the Broncos lose any more corners, they’ll have to start grabbing fans out of the stands.

3. Vance Joseph once again made a series of questionable decisions that cost the Broncos horribly.

To start, on the Broncos third drive, Keenum found Booker in the flat who appeared to break the plane and score a touchdown, but the Refs marked him down just short of the goal line. Despite replays showing Booker breaking the plane, the Broncos opted not to challenge. This was the most recent in a series of very questionable non-challenges by Vance Joseph, including one last week against the 49ers. Luckily the Broncos were able to score on the next play, but the decision still could’ve been costly.

Later, on fourth-and-1, deep in Cleveland territory, trailing by four and their playoff hopes resting in the balance, Joseph opted to take a field goal rather than go for it. The decision ended up sinking the Broncos. The Browns got the ball and probably could’ve sealed the game, had it not been for a fantastic play by Gotsis, but were able to take almost three minutes off the clock.

Now, once again, it’s the day after a crushing Broncos loss and Broncos fans everywhere are thinking, “It’s time for Vance Joseph to go.”