The Denver Broncos have a lot to be concerned about. They have blown a 7-0 start and find themselves on the brink of an epic slide that may place them on the outside looking in on the playoffs. With only a one-game lead in the AFC West, they are preparing to take on the 11-3 Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football after two demoralizing losses. Yet, the team is staying the course and looking to the positives in order to remain focused on the task at hand.
“I think the thing we need to do is really hang on to the great things we’re doing because there [are] a lot of them. As a team, first half last week may be as good as we could play, but yet in the second half we don’t play good enough to win in any phase. We’re trying to hang onto that. We understand that we’ve got to play better for four quarters and more consistent. Here we go down the stretch, big, big games and playing a really good football team this weekend,” head coach Gary Kubiak said Wednesday.
As Kubiak stated, their first half last Sunday was remarkable. They jumped out to a 17-point lead on the Pittsburgh Steelers and looked unbeatable, but it was followed by another confounding second-half collapse that additionally involved their top-ranked defense. Their 34-27 loss, their fourth of the season, could not have come at a worse time for the Broncos. They dropped another game while the Kansas City Chiefs won their eighth-straight. While their current predicament does not escape the team’s minds they know that it can help refocus them at the most critical time, the playoff push.
“It definitely fuels us because we feel we are better than that,” Sylvester Williams said Wednesday of the loss in Pittsburgh. “I feel like as an organization, they put more on us and obviously we don’t feel like we should give up 34 points to anyone, let alone be up two touchdowns and lose the game. We as a team want to get better and as a defense we don’t want to give up that many points.”
The Broncos certainly have enjoyed success in the past few seasons and haven’t dealt with much pressure getting into the postseason. The last three seasons they have gone 13-3, 13-3 and 12-4, cruising to AFC West titles and sure playoff positioning. After the two most recent loses, it has changed the dynamic of Monday’s matchup with the Bengals. Playoff seeding implications were always likely a factor for this game but now, just getting in is an issue for the Broncos.
“It’s kind of different now, especially with the situation we are in. It is basically a playoff game now. Its like, ‘win or go home,’” Demaryius Thomas said Wednesday. “The guys know that and we are going to do whatever we can to go out Monday and get a win to but ourselves in a decent position when playoffs come around.”
The team’s recent loss to the Steelers was a tough one to swallow given the fast start, but the veterans in the locker room have already put it behind them, hoping to set themselves up for success in the next game.
“I think it would be easy to get frustrated and easy to change the way you prepare and say, ‘Well, I prepared too hard so I’m not going to do that this week.’ But that’s not how you win games and that’s not how you win a championship,” veteran tackle Ryan Harris said confidently.
Emmanuel Sanders, who had a tremendous game in Pittsburgh, echoed his teammates’ statements Wednesday saying, “We just have to get back in the lab and work. That is all we can do. You don’t want to carry any luggage on your back because all it going to do is slow you down. We don’t have a choice but to shake it off if we want to go where we want to go and win a Super Bowl.”
The offense has been scoreless in the second halves of their last three games and it has grabbed all the headlines. Their defense allowed their first 300-yard passer of the season in Pittsburgh while allowing 24 unanswered points. To many, they are falling apart at the worst time; the team, though, is staying calm.
“You just stay positive, know that it is the NFL and things like that happen. We’ve been in plenty of close games that we have won and that was a game that we lost,” Bradley Roby said Wednesday. And his teammate Harris is standing by Kubiak’s thoughts on positivity as well.
“If we can put a full game together, especially down the stretch here, we are going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
Last season the Broncos lost a Week 16 matchup on Monday night to the Bengals, then three weeks later quietly faded in their divisional round playoff loss versus the Indianapolis Colts. This season has been full of ups and downs and now there is no more hiding their true identity. Monday night, as Thomas stated, is basically, “win or go home.”
Roby, a second year standout defensive player understands the challenge ahead perfectly. “Basically we are backed against a wall. Anytime you back someone against a wall you are going to see their true colors. When they have no other choice, you are going to see what they are going to do. They are going to back down or they are going to stand up and fight. So this is our ‘In the corner game.’ Everything is on the line, we are playing a great opponent so we are going to see how we are going to respond,” he said.
Last season, the Broncos certainly backed down. This season, an amazing one in many respects, is on the brink of a similar fate. Here’s hoping this team stands up and fights and that starts with their “playoff game” Monday night.