The End of a Season

Tonight, Denver fans, what you watched was the end of one season and the beginning of a rebuilding season. Gone are the thoughts of an AFC West championship and a good playoff run. Gone are the thoughts that this Denver team is one of the better teams in the league.

The Chiefs played well and Larry Johnson continues to prove that he’s one of the finest players in the league. The Broncos have talent, too, but they showed once again that they don’t have talent consistently when and where they need it to win the tough games. The running game--the bedrock of any Shanahan team--is virtually non-existent and the passing game, unfortunately, is hampered by inconsistent and lackluster quarterbacking along with too few legitimate receiving threats.

The defense played well and continued to show that the biggest reservoir of talent on the team is on that side of the ball. Even though they were pushed around on a couple drives, they played an overall strong game. It would be better if they could find a way to be getting pressure on opponents’ quarterbacks, but that is the same thing that critics have been saying for the last few years.

I think the biggest disappointment that I will have coming out of this season is that it is a wasted year in Champ Bailey’s career--and one of his best seasons, for that matter.

And Jake Plummer, regardless of how many wins he has as a Broncos quarterback, seems to have played himself out of his job. Today, he made some bad decisions, a few bad throws, and got little help from his second tier receivers. He also showed a little heart when he scrambled, one of the things that fans love about him. What he didn’t do was make a compelling case for his continuing presence as the Broncos starting quarterback.

Given that the Broncos season has taken a depressing dive over the last week (two losses to AFC West opponents in the last four days), the truth is that the last portion of this season will be devoted to seeing if the team can find the players of the future. Who will step up to take over the role of starting running back and carry us into next year? Mike Bell is almost as inconsistent as Plummer, but shows moments of great talent. Tatum Bell has proven that worries about his hardiness were realistic. Nash is someone who we still don’t know.

And what about the wide receiver situation? I think that it is obvious that Javon Walker will be the number one receiver starting next season and Rod Smith will be a possession-oriented number two. Who will back them up? Kircus, who showed such promise in the pre-season? The Broncos miss having a good, reliable threat from one of their backs, the tight ends aren’t up to the standard that Shannon Sharp set years ago, and there still isn’t a standout third wide receiver.

Of course, the biggest challenge will be seeing if Jay Cutler is the guy who can set the team up for better things next year. Is the Cutler we saw in pre-season truly as talented as he appeared? Is he ready for the responsibility of an NFL leadership role? He looks like he’s 15, which worried me in, perhaps, the most shallow possible way. I have little faith in those pre-season numbers as most of his time came against second string defenses playing simple schemes. The regular season, kind of like the playoffs in the NHL, is an entirely different game.

This isn’t a defeatist view; I fully believe that the Broncos have a great shot at a Wild Card spot in the play offs this year. What I don’t believe is that the Broncos, with so much of their game in disorder, are heading to the Super Bowl. It’s time for Shanahan to start working to salvage what remains of this season and to prepare for next year.

Here’s to Herm Edwards and the Chiefs. While the Broncos seem to be fading, Kansas is starting to shine.