Very few things went right for the Denver Broncos in what turned out to be only their fourth losing season in the last 23 years.
The train seemed to be steadily on the tracks when the Broncos reached their Week 5 bye. They sat at a comfortable 3-1 with three quarters of the season remaining before enduring a historically long losing streak that spanned two months.
For a team composed of many of the same players that won a Super Bowl only two seasons ago, losing for that long — and often by double-digits — isn’t something that they were used to.
“This season was very frustrating,” quarterback Brock Osweiler said on Monday. “Winning five football games is not the standard here in Denver. The standard and the expectations are to compete for Super Bowls. When you don’t do that, it’s a failed season.’
As the nature of the beast that is the NFL runs its course, younger players begin to take the places of people in the locker room that helped reach the mountaintop. Players that were drafted in 2016 don’t know what it’s like to get to where the Broncos were just a little bit ago.
“When I first came in here… I missed playing with [former Broncos QB] Peyton [Manning] by four months,” second-year safety Will Parks said on Monday. “I missed the Super Bowl by four months. We got drafted in April. Walking into a locker room, you have to know the level of intensity, as far as what they expect from you. You have to know exactly what you’re coming into. Those guys want to go there again.”
Based on what took place on the field in 2017, the Broncos look like they’re more than a few pieces away from contending again. But according to the players in the locker room, they feel like they are closer than people may think.
“I think we’re really close,” linebacker Todd Davis said. “I think we’re extremely close. I think if we just play the way we need to play consistently — I think that’s the biggest thing for us is just to be consistent. I think it’s minor tweaks here and there, and I think we can be a dominant football team again.”
“We still have a lot of talent,” wide receive Bennie Fowler said. “We’re not a lot of pieces away from the Super Bowl team that we had. But at the same time, this is the NFL. It gets better every single year. Things are going to change. We’re not far away at all.”
“We’re real close,” Parks said. “There are probably just a few key pieces that we have to fix.”
General manager and president of football operations John Elway must think the Broncos are closer to contending than they showed in 2017, as well. That’s a large part of the reason he elected to keep head coach Vance Joseph heading into the 2018 season.
“I think that when you’re 5-11, there are obviously some issues that we have to get handled,” Elway said. “I think that is our goal. That’s our mindset. Whether we can get there or not, I don’t want to raise the expectation level by saying, ‘Yes, automatically, we’re going to get back there.’ But our goals have not changed for the Denver Broncos and what we want to do—and that’s to compete for world championships. Now, we have to build towards that process. That starts now. Hopefully, we can get back to where we’re very competitive.”
The Broncos certainly have some work to do heading into the 2018 season, but they sound optimistic about the future.