Broncos’ high hopes hit rock bottom |

Broncos’ high hopes hit rock bottom

Arnie Stapleton
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado
David J. Phillip/APDenver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler pauses between plays during the third quarter of a blowout loss to the Houston Texans Thursday.

ENGLEWOOD, Colorado ” For the first time in six years, the Denver Broncos showed up to work Monday knowing the playoffs were out of reach.

With snow still piled high on the sidelines, they went through a 90-minute practice on a sun-splashed field, giving no hint they had been eliminated from the postseason puzzle.

“It is difficult, but that’s life, too,” safety John Lynch said. “You’re not always on top. The old saying that adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it, we’ve talked a lot about that. I think you can see a lot about individuals and a team how they respond to it.”

The last time the Broncos (6-8) were in this position was 2001, when they finished 8-8.

At times like these, “you always figure out which guys play hard, which guys don’t,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “But I’ll be surprised if we have anybody who doesn’t play hard.”

Pride and performance are what matters these next two weeks.

“Your career is based on how you perform and if you don’t perform, it’ll show on tape and guys will know what type of heart you have,” cornerback Champ Bailey said.

The Broncos’ new goal is to win at San Diego on Monday night and then beat Minnesota at home on Dec. 30. That would allow them to avoid their first losing season since stumbling to a 6-10 in 1999 after winning back-to-back Super Bowls.

That was the only time in Shanahan’s 13-year tenure that the Broncos finished below .500.

Bailey said the 41-3 beating the Broncos endured at the hands of the Chargers in Denver on Oct. 7 should provide enough motivation not to cash it in early on Christmas Eve.

“We’re aware of how they beat us and I know they’re going to think that they could do it again,” Bailey said. “So, we’ve got to go out and play our game. We’re capable of playing well. We’ve just got to do it.”

Receiver Brandon Marshall disagreed with the notion the Broncos have nothing to play for now.

“Everyone in this locker room knows the score of the last game and that was ridiculous,” he said. “We’re a better team than that. We’re a better team than what we’ve displayed all year, so we have something to play for this week.”

The Broncos’ season has been marked by an abundance of injuries and inconsistency.

They began the year with championship aspirations after an offseason spending spree produced a star-studded roster that featured the likes of Travis Henry, Dre’ Bly, Sam Adams, Daniel Graham, Brandon Stokley, Warrick Holdman, Jimmy Kennedy and Simeon Rice.

Quarterback Jay Cutler called it a fantasy player’s dream lineup.

Turns out it was a pipe dream.

The retooled roster was matched by an offseason shuffle in Shanahan’s coaching staff as he hired defensive boss Jim Bates and special teams coach Scott O’Brien, two much-admired longtime assistants whose results haven’t matched their resumes.

After testing a dozen almost sumo-sized run-stuffers, the Broncos have settled on lighter linemen who can rush the passer, the antithesis of Bates’ philosophy of plugging holes with big, beefy bodies.

O’Brien’s units have slogged through a mostly mediocre season that endured a trifecta in Chicago this month when the Broncos allowed a punt return for a touchdown, a kick return for a touchdown and a blocked punt that led to another touchdown.

Although Bly and Stokley have worked out well, Henry has been hobbled by injuries since leading the league in rushing after the first month of the season. Graham is making lots of money to shore up a tattered offensive line with his blocking abilities while his superb pass-catching skills go mostly unused.

Most of the other big offseason additions have been sent packing, following in the footsteps of Gerard Warren and Al Wilson, the team captain whose neck injury and high salary led to his departure last summer and forced the Broncos to move weakside linebacker D.J. Williams to the middle, where he’s not the same playmaker he was on the outside.

The team’s most impressive lineup is its injured list, which includes Rod Smith, Tom Nalen, Stephen Alexander, Ben Hamilton, Nate Jackson, Ebenezer Ekuban and first-round pick Jarvis Moss.

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